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Diane Keaton, Mary Stenburgen, Candice Bergen and Jane Fonda in Book Club: The Next Chapter.
Credit: FIFTH SEASON, LLC

Film

Book Club’s Second Chapter: Wine and Why Not?

Book Club: The Next Chapter Review

Before my screening of Book Club: The Next Chapter, a short video of Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen, and Jane Fonda sitting in chairs, holding empty wine glasses welcomed everyone and their mothers to the film. In this case, everyone and their mothers literally means everyone and their mothers as the sequel to the 2018 film about four mature women navigating life, love, and literature was knowingly released on Mother’s Day weekend. By speaking directly to this demographic, the filmmakers show they know exactly who their audience is.

It’s important to keep this in mind as you watch The Next Chapter –an uneven but charming follow-up – that self-awareness is the ingredient that makes this series that much better than it should be. It doesn’t try too hard to appeal to everyone that may be watching. It’s perfectly happy with its own identity as comforting AARP-spolitation. As the shoehorned lit references prove, the sequel is not without its faults but it retains the same brand of treacle as the original. At this particular moment, let us also find some solace that this didn’t go straight to Peacock.

For the second time, our quartet of bawdy bookworms is back to show the world there can be at least a slight bit more depth to on-screen depictions of the old and horny. Not much has changed since Book Club. The apprehensive Diane (played by Keaton) and her pilot boyfriend Mitchell (Andy Garcia) are still together. Restauranteur Carol (Steenburgen) is caring for her beloved husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) as he recovers from a heart attack. The now-retired Judge Sharon (Bergen) is off to the races in her return to romance after a rough start. But when hotelier Vivian (Fonda) gets engaged to her old flame Arthur (Don Johnson), the gals decide to indulge in a journey to Italy for her bachelorette party.

We check back in with the gals as Sharon struggles to join a Zoom meeting for their book club amid the Coronavirus pandemic. This misguided prelude prevents our lovely ladies from occupying the same space and is filled with the same observations the world grew tired of before lockdown ended. The jokes may have landed with a healthy dose of ‘remember when’ reflection after more distance from a pandemic the World Health Organization declared over about a week before this piece was written. Perhaps the producers felt they better get them in while they have the chance but its inclusion presents too many complexities. After it’s mentioned the travel ban has been lifted there is no further acknowledgement of COVID. Not a vaccination card or a mask to be seen for the remainder of the film despite all of these women belonging to an extremely susceptible demographic.

Book Club exists in a world of ideals in which a global health emergency has no place. It’s a world of Nancy Meyers kitchens and overlit scenes that assure you nothing sinister is lurking in the shadows –an appropriate depiction of the life of four affluent white seniors. In this rose-colored existence (or should I say rosé), everything is too good to be true –like a trip that feels suspiciously as if it was produced by the Italian bureau for tourism.

Once the bachelorette party touches down in Rome, the movie starts to sing like a tipsy Dean Martin holiday special. After a riff session of pedicure references and dick ratings at ancient statues, the gals surprise Viv with a wedding dress fitting at an appointment-only atelier. Here the audience gets what they came for, the girls drinking prosecco and enjoying an outfit montage. Each club member gets to put on a matrimonial frock with the pièce de résistance being an outfit serendipitously designed just for Diane.

Credit: Riccardo Ghilardi / © 2023 FIFTH SEASON, LLC

The fun continues when Sharon meets a retired philosophy professor who invites the gang to dine with him. The dinner is, of course, the kind of spontaneous experience many dream of encountering. They arrive at a clandestine courtyard, styled like the wedding of your most well-to-do high school friend, complete with a band, lengthy table, and baubles of light.

Much of what happens in Italy is this movie firing on all its cylinders. Steenburgen’s flirtation is unexpectedly gripping and Fonda gets a plethora of bawdy quips throughout –playing on amuse bouche and wisecracking about Mother Theresa giving head. Keaton takes some moments that could be delivered with a completely satisfactory performance and instead offers them with a surprising degree of pathos.

Despite the unfortunate pandemic prologue and an overstuffed and excessively saccharine finale, much of The Next Chapter fizzes like the many pours of prosecco it depicts. It’s a worthy entry into the sassy seniors film canon that allows us to tap into the lighthearted, well-intentioned aunt that exists inside us all.

Written By

Kent Murai Wilhelm is a multimedia journalist born, raised, and based in New York City. He writes and makes photos, podcasts, and videos about film and local New York City stories. Kent attended SUNY Purchase, where he studied New Media, and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He produces podcasts for The Atlantic Transmission and produced & hosted From Brooklyn With Love, a monthly deep-dive into the world of James Bond at Videology. https://letterboxd.com/Kwhc/

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