Let's start with the bad news: The script is, well, lousy. A series of clunk-clunk-thud scenes, cheaply directed against Nancy Meyers kitchens and green-screen seascapes, Book Club consists of four indistinct interwoven stories, none of which would be absorbing enough to sustain a movie alone. (A granny Intolerance this is not.)
The good news: Book Club is headlined by four fine actresses, together for the first time. They make a truffle of a turd. And the premise of Book Club is just savory enough. A quartet of professional, brainy ladies read the Fifty Shades trilogy in their long-running Los Angeles book club and suddenly find their stalled or simmering sex lives heating up. You know where this is going. That's the point.
This kind of movie would be incomplete without Diane Keaton, who remains the LeBron James of the marble countertop monologue. Here she plays Diane -- yes, really -- in the most meta characterization this side of Mae West, costumed hat to boot like Diane Keaton, with every twitchy neurosis intact. Diane has insufferable daughters in Arizona who gripe that she's too old to live alone. They'd be shocked to learn she's shacking up with Andy Garcia, a millionaire desert daddy with a ranch in Sedona and a pilot license.
The group's ingenue is Mary Steenburgen, whose retired husband puts into his motorcycle all the attention that belongs in her you-know-what. After she drops Viagra in his beer, she makes a silk purse of the barely-there dick jokes. Underrated for fifty years, Candice Bergen is a droll delight as a divorced federal judge who zips into fancy Spanx and dips her toe in the Richard Dreyfuss pool.
And lastly, there is Jane Fonda, doing the heaviest lifting of all. Stuck under the same heinous wig that wore Julia Roberts in Mother's Day, Fonda plays her pitifully thin story with everything she has. In Book Club's sole politically cheeky whim, her role is Vivian, an oversexed hotel tycoon with gaudy tastes and a mess of bad hair: Sound familiar? Sadly, she shares all her romantic scenes with an old flame played by Don Johnson. Surely no one ever wished for this pairing. And yet, she draws us in, working hard, taking it for the team.
And what a team. None of these four has any chemistry with her male partner, but the movie comes to life every ten minutes when the girls regroup to dish and drink unholy amounts of gruner. This is all to say that Book Club delivers precisely what we expect, down to the four-way clink of wine glasses that buttons every other scene. Everyone gets some sex, a soliloquy, and a silver fox. So what if it's all a little vanilla? If you wanted surprises, you'd be better off reading E.L. James.
Austin Dale is a Los Angeles-based TV writer and film critic.