One of the biggest challenges facing moviegoers today is a lack of movies drawing a varied demographic into the theater. Sure, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 3 could be for the young and the young-at-heart, and unless you’re a die-hard Marvel fan and grew up on the comics, it isn’t necessarily going to be a “date night” type film. Similarly, in our virtualized worlds, audiences have many options at home. The challenge with made-for-streaming movies is that they’re not meant for staying power. Then, again, neither are the blockbusters – they get in, make gobs of money, or go on ignored until they hit home video and languish. Production values have improved over the years. However, films for streaming platforms have a specific style and quality that don’t scream, “I’m meant for the bigger screen.” Bill Holderman’s Book Club: The Next Chapter aims, with some success, to correct those oversights.
In full disclosure, I have not seen Holderman’s Book Club from 2018. Holderman and co-screenwriter Erin Simms avoid the pratfalls of sequels by not making that a requisite. And, as someone jumping into the lives of Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen), and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) for the first time, I couldn’t have been more delighted at the vitality and virility of these women. Of course, we’re reminded of the lives we had to live during the Pandemic with varied Zoom chats between friends. However, the opening sequences go to lengths to establish the kinds of people these four women are.
At Book Club: The Next Chapter’s center is the need for human interconnectedness.
In our virtualized worlds, finding common interests amongst peers is more complex, something that the story and the performances demonstrate effectively. Life, loss, and love bring these four women together when they decide to take up an abandoned trip planned for Italy as a bachelorette trip for Viv, who is recently engaged to the devilish-at-any-age Don Johnson as Arthur. All the women are initially reluctant to take the journey, but they convince each other that getting away is precisely what each woman needs. Fonda is driving the story, but Keaton’s cooler head prevails. Keaton’s Diane is a perfect match for the also-so-devilishly-handsome-at-any-age Andy Garcia as her husband, Mitchell. Craig T. Nelson is featured as Bruce, Carol’s husband, recovering from a heart attack. Holderman employs technology excitingly and uniquely for a romantic comedy. Set against the cast and the tech’s placement in the story, the director strikes a balance that will be appreciated because we have trust in each of these actors conveyed through the screen.
On the other hand, Book Club: The Next Chapter is less about a book club’s members reacting to a salacious novel and more about writing the next chapter. That’s an important distinction because the four women have a well-established history enough that, if you haven’t seen the first Book Club, this next chapter is like picking up a friendship after an extended period away from one another.
Aside from the strong cast, the other standout from Book Club: The Next Chapter is the wanderlust cinematography style of Andrew Dunn, who captures Italy as if we’re seeing a moving postcard for 90 minutes. The sun-drenched images are full of color and vitality, as with the cast.
Where Book Club: The Next Chapter falls off its rails is with its self-fulfilling prophesizing, marked with Diane’s question, “The only question is how will we mess this all up?” as if they know their journey toward Viv’s and Arthur’s nuptials are not going to happen in a straight line. The challenge with this next chapter is that it doesn’t hide any of its story-level surprises, save for one. Sure, one could recline in their motorized theater recliner with a bag of popcorn and relish in the visual splendor of the cinematography or laugh along with the four women as they find their way through the Italian countryside, conjuring up past flames (is it me or is it hot in here?). The editing from Doc Crotzer does not help the story’s case either, as it leaves room for doubt about just picking up and going off to a foreign country for a weekend getaway.
The strongest selling point of Book Club: The Next Chapter is in its cast and the characters they play. I’m at an age where I’ve grown up watching these four women power their way through movies and television, and it was refreshing to see such vitality and joviality for the spice that is life on display. Inherently, the production qualities of the movie straddle a very thin line between being ready for a theatrical release, especially on the weekend geared toward celebrating moms in the United States, and the compartmentalized and virtualized lives we live.
Book Club: The Next Chapter
Directed by Bill Holderman
Written by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms, based on characters by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms
Starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Giancarlo Giannini, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson
PG-13, 108 mins, Focus Features