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Movie Review

Forty years.

That's how long Diane, Vivian, Sharon and Carol have enjoyed their monthly book club meetings, a relational oasis amid the pain, joy, chaos and change that have characterized their friendships over those four decades.

Diane's life has changed recently with the death of her beloved (but quite boring) accountant husband. Her two grown daughters, Jill and Adrianne, worry about her, living all by herself in her beautiful Santa Monica home. What if she fell? What if someone broke into her home? What if … mom just moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, where they could keep a watchful eye on her?

Sharon, meanwhile, has poured herself into a career as a no-nonsense federal judge since her divorce 18 years before. She's as successful as she is sexless, and she admits to her friends that she hasn't been intimate with a man since she and ex-husband Tom (now dating a voluptuous bombshell decades his junior) split up.

Then there's Vivian. She has sex all the time. The more, the merrier. But only with men she has no intention of ever being in a relationship with. She's spent the last 40 years establishing a successful boutique hotel, and she has no intention of letting something as unpredictable as a marriage wreck her perfect life. (Never mind that the guy who last posed a matrimonial threat back in the '70s, Arthur, has suddenly resurfaced and won't leave her alone.)

Then there's Carol. She'd like to spice things up with hubby Bruce. But her recently retired man is more interested in revving up an old motorcycle than revving up the intimacy in their marriage—no matter how hard Carol tries to convince him otherwise.

Ah, but at least there's always book club, where they all come together to laugh, cry and laugh some more. However, when Vivian suggests that their next book should be the erotic thriller Fifty Shades of Grey, well, let's just say their good-old book club becomes a surprising catalyst for, ahem, change in their well-established routines and relationships.

Positive Elements

Book Club's plot revolves around the subject of sex (as encouraged by these women's reading of Fifty Shades of Grey together). But as the story progresses, we begin to see that it's about something deeper than merely rediscovering physical intimacy.

Each of these women (and in some cases, the men around them) is trying to cope with loss, change and aging. Sharon has sought meaning in her career. Diane seeks to please her two daughters and serve their families at almost any cost—sometimes to her detriment. And Carol's desperate attempt to reignite passion in her marriage paradoxically prevents her from really listening to her husband.

Though her concept of "living" gets expressed primarily in terms of physical intimacy, Vivian is still determined not to "stop living before I stop living," an admirable sentiment. Meanwhile, Diane meets a dashing airline pilot who falls for her—and her for him—named Mitchell. He says something similar to Diane: "We're all going to die someday, Diane. I just feel like living a little first." Mitchell tries to help Diane see that she's spent her entire life trying to please others and doing what they wanted her to do, so much so that she doesn't even really know what she wants. He tells her, "It's OK to be happy, Diane."

One of the film's most poignant scenes involves Carol's husband Bruce, who implies that retirement has been so emotionally disorienting that the thought of sexual intimacy has become intimidating. He tells his wife, "I don't know who I am anymore. What [am] I going to do? What can I do? I need a little time to figure that out again."

Vivian, likewise, is terrified of emotionally opening up to Arthur, that old flame who's pursuing her once more. In a moment of insecurity, she spouts off to her friends, "I'm going to go back to having sex and not caring. That's what I'm good at." Carol gently counters, "Eventually, people need a little more than that."

Arthur tells Vivian that anonymous fame (as a DJ) isn't nearly as satisfying as having a real relationship with one person who knows, accepts and loves you. He suggests to Vivian that he wants to love her, but she's scared that commitment comes with strings attached to it. Arthur reassures her, "I have no interest in trying to change you. I love who you are."

Spiritual Content

One scene revolves around throwing a coin in a fountain and making a wish. Vivian says God designed women's bodies for sex. One woman jokes about her "inner goddess." Someone sarcastically scoffs at the idea of men being "God's gift to women." We hear lyrics from Meatloaf's 1993 song "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" which say, "Some days I pray for silence/Some days I pray for soul/Some days I just pray to the god of sex and drums and rock 'n' roll."

Sexual Content

Vivian has spent decades pursuing casual sexual flings. We hear about the one she had with Arthur 40 years before; it led to his first proposal, which she rejected. And she's been running from her feelings for him ever since.

We hear multiple verbal references to both male and female anatomy. Double entendres abound. The women gasp and giggle over "the things Christian does" to his love interest in Fifty Shades of Grey. We hear how he "gave it to her right there in the boathouse." Diane exclaims, "Best book ever!"

Diane's meet cute with Mitchell on a plane involves accidental groping when she trips over him. (A second incident of similarly unintended groping happens during a tense moment on the plane later on.) After they begin seeing each other, one of her friends says, "The last time Diane went on a date, she got pregnant." Another responds dryly, "I don't think that's going to happen this time."

Carol puts on a skimpy waitress uniform to seduce her husband. She also attempts to coax him into sex by slipping Viagra into his drink without telling or asking him. He's visibly aroused (though still wearing pants) for quite some time afterward. Carol's strategy backfires, though, and Bruce is angry with her for trying to manipulate him.

Sharon meets a man named George via a dating site. It's suggested that they enjoy a tryst in her car. (We see them rolling out disheveled and partially unclothed afterward.) Elsewhere we see Sharon trying to extricate herself from Spanx undergarments.

Multiple couples kiss and cuddle. It's implied that Bruce and Carol are moving toward physical intimacy again after months without it. It seems as if Diane is close to moving in with Mitchell, too.

We see the cover of a book about sex that the women read in the '70s.

Violent Content

Diane jokes about someone dying in a plane crash.

Crude or Profane Language

Two f-words, three s-words. God's name is misused nearly 30 times, while Jesus' name is abused four times. Other profanities include "a--," "d--n," and "h---."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Characters drink wine throughout. A couple of scenes imply that quite a lot of it has been imbibed, with one character clearly being drunk and surrounded by empty bottles.

Other Negative Elements

Diane cooks up an elaborate lie to get away from her overprotective daughters in order to spend a weekend with Mitchell.

Conclusion

Actresses Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen have each enjoyed long, distinguished careers in a town that frequently has no use for actresses over the age of 40. Fonda is amazingly twice that age now—80—and she's still embracing the role of a sex kitten.

That's the hook here: aging women pursuing sex with the kind of vigor we expect from ripped and randy male Millennial stars like, say, Zac Efron. It's supposed to be shocking and funny. It's supposed to communicate that just because you get old, you don't have to stop living—with "living" in this case being a code word for exuberant sex. And I suppose this film accomplishes those goals, at times feeling like a cringe-worthy and demeaning exercise for four actresses who've each starred in much, much better movies over the years.

And yet …

Once you move past the nonstop sex gags—though, admittedly, that's almost impossible—there are some deeper messages here about the importance of emotional intimacy, the beauty of family and friends.

I liked those messages. Quite a lot actually. If only we didn't have to endure so many risqué jokes to get to that thematic destination. What could have been a tender story about the struggles of four aging friends is ultimately crippled by its "naughty" obsessions.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Credits

Rating

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Diane Keaton as Diane; Jane Fonda as Vivian; Candice Bergen as Sharon; Mary Steenburgen as Carol; Andy Garcia as Mitchell; Craig T. Nelson as Bruce; Don Johnson as Arthur; Alicia Silverstone as Jill; Richard Dreyfuss as George; Ed Begley Jr. as Tom; Katie Aselton as Adrianne

Director

Bill Holderman ( )

Distributor

Paramount

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

May 18, 2018

On Video

August 28, 2018

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Adam R. Holz

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults
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