This cheesy comedic drama offers a fine cast of getting-on stars all trying hard to make the thing work, and yet Bill Holderman’s feature début will prove too drably-handled, contrived and doddering for all but the most forgiving punter.
It also jumps on the long-departed Fifty Shades bandwagon, as if E.L. James’ infamous books are still new and topical when, in fact, there have been literary (sort of) sequels, an awful film series and more imitations, variations and rip-offs than you can shake a whip at.
Four lifelong friends are introduced in a mock-snapshot and voiceover-heavy opening sequence notable for its dire Photoshop work, and then we properly meet the quartet as they gather for one of their regular and slightly boozy book club get-togethers. Hotelier Vivian (Jane Fonda) has never married and relishes her independence, judge Sharon (Candice Bergen) hasn’t got over her divorce, Diane (Diane Keaton) is fragile after the recent death of her husband and Carol (Mary Steenburgen, the youngest of these players) is unhappy with her stale marriage, and they talk and talk and talk about it all at inordinate length.
There are hoots of glee as they decide to read Fifty Shades Of Grey, acting as if they’ve barely heard of it and as the four distinguished leads lay on the comedic charm to make it seem hilarious. Then there’s the expected dopey montage of them all turning the pages and looking titillated as they prepare for their next meeting.
Naturally the raunchy nature of the book makes them reassess their love lives: Vivian pursues an old flame named Arthur (Don Johnson) who luckily just happens to turn up; Sharon gets into online dating and meets George (Richard Dreyfuss, barely in it); Diane runs into an oh-so-nice guy (Andy Garcia as Mitchell) on a plane; and Carol attempts to spice things up with her hubby Bruce (Craig T. Nelson, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible and suffering through a groaner Viagra joke).
Put as such this might sound like it would have to offer at least a few easy giggles, yet it’s surprising how leaden Holderman’s treatment is here. Although Keaton’s thread is quite sweet and Garcia pretty dashing the rest of the plot is strained and, at times, more than a little embarrassing.
Rated M. Book Club is in cinemas now.