“Book Club,” aka “Sisterhood of the Traveling Spanx,” stuffs the screen with Oscar and Emmy winning actresses of a certain age and hopes the laughs will follow.
And they do, just often enough to make this genial, eye-roller of a farce work.
The giggles are strictly low-hanging fruit, recycled bits and one-liners delivered in the comforting comic cadences of Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton and especially sitcom Queen Mum Candice Bergen.
She plays a Federal judge, 18 years divorced, whose pick-up lines could use a little subtlety.
“I do have the power to put you in handcuffs, you know.”
This trip to Nancy Meyersland — older actors, WASPy SoCal affluence — is about that age group discovering the fantasy fiction written with them in mind, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” novels, with their S&M, BDSM and D&D kink, and taking it to heart, with a blush.
Fonda plays a Beverly Hills hotelier and well-preserved hottie who never married but is full of advice to her book club pals — “Oh honey, I’ve been doing field research on this demographic.” And how.
Steenburgen plays another variation of her “Parenthood” wife, a chef fretting over the sexless retirement her husband (Craig T. Nelson) is subjecting her to.
“Hand me those pull-ties.”
“Oh, are you gonna TIE me UP?”
Diane Keaton is the recently-widowed mom whose daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton) insist she move to Scottsdale to be near them. Because, you know, she could break a hip or something.
And Bergen is the judge, happily sexless until this month’s book that they’re reading together gets her on Bumble, prompting “hilarious” online-profile pic accidents, and dates with Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn. Lucky her.
That’s the “Sisterhood” connection, re-igniting their libidos when “We shouldn’t be doing this at our age.”
Fonda’s Viv re-connects with an old flame (Don Johnson), Steenburgen’s Carol tempts, teases and Viagra-doses her disinterested husband, reprising her famous “Parenthood” cop pulls them over scene, and Keaton’s Diane meets a handsome pilot (Andy Garcia) who rocks her world.
The menfolk in this give as good as they get, but Garcia is the stand-out. His genuine surprise and delight at whatever pratfall Keaton executes when they “meet cute” suggests this wasn’t over-rehearsed. Just let the old pros do what they know how to do.
Producer turned writer (“All is Lost,” “A Walk in the Woods”) and now director Bill Holderman does his best Nancy “Something’s Gotta Give/It’s Complicated” Meyers here. And while he’s not quite in the league with the mistress of the genre, he and co-writer Erin Simms give their stars their moments, their big speeches.
What he couldn’t do was make Paramount release this Mother’s Day-ish movie on Mother’s Day weekend.
He shoots his leading ladies in the most flattering clothes and in the most flattering light, but there’s no effort to hide the fact that Fonda’s America’s best preserved 80 year-old, that Keaton’s lifelong willowy frame looks a trifle skeletal, the way she always wears those old-man-at-the-country-club pants (WAY high), and that Bergen hasn’t had to diet for a TV contract in over a decade.
There’s a “We are who we are” confidence to these aging beauties, female and paunchy, balding male, that is refreshing.
The jokes? Not quite that fresh, lots of Christian Grey, “I could have him in jail for any one of those things,” cracks from the funny judge, “Show off the girls” cleavage suggestions for datewear from the hotelier and “I need a SAFE word” from Diane.
Because you know what they say about dating men over 65. The odds are good but the goods are odd.
MPAA Rating: PG-13, for racy sexual innuendo
Cast: Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton, Richard Dreyfuss, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson
Credits:Directed by Bill Holderman, script by Bill Holderman, Erin Simms . A Paramount release.
Running time: 1:41