Only a few weeks after Jane Fonda navigated pedestrian, older-skewered comedy in 80 For Brady, the legendary actress is working with similar, though admittedly better material in Book Club: The Next Chapter, an unnecessary, but serviceable laugher that reunites Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen for another round of mostly safe, occasionally suggestive comedy that should prove the equivalent of a page turner for its target audience.
Now, I am not in that target audience specifically, but I can’t deny how much I actually enjoyed the first film for what it was, and that same mentality is what keeps The Next Chapter maintaining a certain energy. Yes, it’s likely to be vanilla to younger crowds, but to those who can identify with the on-screen quartet and their later-in-life musings on love, sex and friendship it’s sure to prove plentiful
It’s been five years since we last turned pages with Diane (Keaton), Viv (Fonda), Sharon (Bergen) and Carol (Steenburgen), and whilst their friendship hasn’t changed, their lives individually have; Diane is enjoying a second lease on life through her romance with Mitchell (Andy Garcia), but can’t help but still hold on to the memory of her deceased husband; Viv, forever a commitment-phobe, has thrown caution to the wind and accepted the proposal of long-time beau Arthur (Don Johnson); Sharon, taking a page out of Viv’s handbook, seems dedicated to a life exploring her newfound sexual virility; whilst Carol, whose story is perhaps the most grounded in reality, has her own purpose tested, both personally and professionally.
Though it’s Viv’s nuptials that spurs on the film’s Italian setting – the ladies reading The Alchemist take certain life events as signs of the universe telling them to take leaps of faith – Carol’s current situation allows Bill Holderman and Erin Simms‘s script to delve into the very real global placing of how the pandemic shifted people’s perspectives and professional standings. A film like The Next Chapter is designed as pure escapism – especially considering some of the shenanigans the four get up to in Italy, not to mention how impossibly gorgeous the film looks as it indulges in pure “travel porn” aesthetics – but in referencing the separation that came with lockdowns, it means both the film can have light fun with how you’d imagine the technologically-inept would handle talking on Zoom (if you’ve ever wanted to see Diane Keaton as a potato-shaped avatar you’re in luck) and relay the very real outcome of losing one’s business and having your partner’s health compromised.
As Carol attempts to not wallow in losing her restaurant and facing the mortality of her husband (Craig T. Nelson), she embraces the sweet life of Italy as they treat Viv to an impromptu bachelorette getaway. Enter lots of wine drinking, dress shopping montages, sexual innuendo (mainly courtesy of the still-striking Fonda), and constant run-ins with the law (an amusing gag that benefits Bergen). The script may lean on the side of predictability in how it sets up certain gags and plot points, but it entertains and executes in a manner that benefits its lead quartet; The Next Chapter, if nothing else, further proves how effortlessly charming and comedically-inclined Fonda, Keaton, Bergen and Steenburgen truly are.
A film that lifts up the power and beauty of female friendship, and of how women over a certain age can still be sexy and independent, Book Club: The Next Chapter may have the packaging of a matinee comedy, but there’s a certain beacon of hope present here that women of all ages should embrace.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Book Club: The Next Chapter is screening in Australian theatres from May 11th, 2023.