Gray Matters

Book Club

by George Wolf

Book Club offers up a boatload of veteran Oscar winners and nominees, but limps to its final chapter as a ninety minute catch-22. So many roles for senior stars: good! What this movie makes of those roles: not so much.

Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen are Diane, Vivian, Sharon, and Carol, lifelong friends who began a monthly book club back in the 70s with the scandalous Fear of Flying.

With all four friends now comfortable in their golden years, the randy Vivian chooses Fifty Shades of Grey as the group’s next assignment. The girls are a bit hesitant at first but right on cue, Christian and Anna’s naughty romps reignite some fires down below.

Laughing at older people being sexual is beyond lazy, it’s ignorant. Thankfully director/co-writer Bill Holderman, in his debut feature, does seem actually interested in laughing more with his stars than at them.

But too many of those laughs are leftovers from every episode of Three’s Company, when Mr. Roper overhears Jack and Chrissy in the bedroom saying something like “It’s not big enough!” while we know they were just trying to hang a curtain rod the whole time! Ribaldry!

While the ladies juggle possible boyfriends (Richard Dreyfuss, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson) and a disinterested husband (Craig T. Nelson), contrived antics and double entendres go straight to the unfunny bone.

If you were checking off boxes, all the rich, white characters and romantic fantasies would seem like Nancy Meyers material. But Book Club can’t dig any more than surface deep, and even with all this talent, it never shows the confidence in character that elevates Meyers’s best (It’s Complicated, Something’s Gotta Give).

And then, a surprisingly subtle metaphor built around the comeback of vinyl albums gives you reason to believe Holderman’s heart is in the right place here, he’s just in over his head.

 

Jiggidy Jog

Home Again

by Hope Madden

Let’s say you love Nancy Meyers’s movies – you know, those fantasies like It’s Complicated or Something’s Gotta Give where late-middle-aged women land all the attention, sex, career opportunities and marital comeuppance they’ve always really deserved, only to realize that they had it all in them the whole time. Let’s say you love those, but you’d like them to skew maybe 15 – 20 years younger.

Boy howdy, is Home Again the movie for you.

Written and directed by Meyers’s daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer, it spins a familiar, albeit younger, yarn.

Newly single, freshly 40, gorgeous, living in an unbelievable house and raising two precocious and adorable kids – man, does Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) have it rough.

One contrivance leads to another and suddenly three Hollywood dreamers in the form of gorgeous twentysomething dudes hoping to realize their moviemaking ambitions are living in her guest house.

Why not? I mean, except for the high potential for murder and/or child molestation, but this isn’t that kind of movie. This is the kind that would never happen.

What will happen when Alice’s  estranged husband (Michael Sheen) comes home unexpectedly?

Gasp – do you think he’ll finally see how special she is? Will she hear all those things she’s wanted to hear from him for years? Will it work, or will she slowly realize that she deserves better?

Hell, she deserves it all!

I will tell you who deserves better—besides the audience—Reese Witherspoon.

How great was she earlier this year in HBO’s Big Little Lies? Well, she’s not great here. She coasts along with awkward and/or appreciative faces. She does have some fun chemistry with the underused (but always welcome) Candice Bergen.

None, surprisingly, with the usually reliable Sheen and less than none with the trio of hotties (Nat Wolff, Pico Alexander and Jon Rudnitsky) taking up residence.

It doesn’t help that those actors are bland (Wolff) to middling (Alexander) to weak (Rudnitsky).

No problem appears to be especially troubling, no solution feels earned, no relationship looks authentic. Even Nancy Meyers’s most self-indulgent work had a hard earned charm about it.

What Home Again needed was a different Meyers. That or a scary clown.