When you take four legendary actresses – Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen in this case – and give them a silly premise with a big heart, you get Bill Hoderman's 2018 film Book Club. The movie, which is about four older ladies coming together to read 50 Shades of Grey, was an unexpected and fun play on mature characters finding love. However, the filmmakers and stars have now tried to re-create the “slightly scandalous” and “totally fabulous” fun with Book Club: The Next Chapter, and it falls a bit short. Rather than leaning into the silliness, this follow-up takes itself a skosh too seriously.
Release Date: May 12, 2023
Directed By: Bill Holderman
Written By: Bill Holderman and Erin Simms
Starring: Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Andy Garcia, Don Johnson, Craig T. Nelson
Rating: PG-13 for some strong language and suggestive material
Runtime: 107 minutes
In Book Club: The Next Chapter, Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen), and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) reunite after the pandemic for the Italian adventure they have always dreamed of. While Diane is happy in her relationship with Mitchell (Andy Garcia), the other three ladies are all dealing with major life changes as Carol and Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) deal with a health scare, Sharon finally retires, and Vivan gets engaged to her partner, Arthur (Don Johnson). As the women grapple with these major changes, they realize it’s time to take the trip they always wanted to go on. And during that opulent Italian vacation, the gals end up in a bit of trouble that ultimately brings them closer together.
While this drive to take a fantasy trip and live your best life with your closest friends is heartfelt to an extent, it’s also fairly cliché. It’s this basic premise and preachy mentality – especially in comparison to its predecessor – that makes this movie a sequel that falls short.
The movie’s high points come when it lets Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen do what they do best.
When you have four absolute powerhouses in a movie, you should make sure to capitalize on their talents. To an extent, Book Club: The Next Chapter does do that, and when it does, the movie really works. Letting Jane Fonda be her extra self, and having Mary Steenburgen tap into the physical comedy she aces in Book Club get magnificent results.
The same is true for Candice Bergen, who shines as the all-too-serious Sharon and has some of the funniest lines in the movie. Playing a judge who is very committed to doing her job right, even when it’s not necessary, she has a "straight man" dynamic within the ensemble. Bergen is a genius when it comes to making a dramatic or awkward situation funny – whether she's the only person taking a wedding ceremony seriously or getting caught hooking up with a guy on a water taxi. Her deadpan delivery at the cop who catches her on the boat is hysterical.
Likewise, Diane Keaton she is at her strongest when they let her be her quirky self, but when the movie takes itself too seriously, a lot of that earnest attitude is delivered through Keaton’s character, who frequently preaches about her dislike of marriage. In the first movie, Diane and her stubbornness are what make the film work, the actress uses her ability to switch between comedic and dramatic moments to create a quirky character. She’s a woman who doesn’t want to fall in love, and through a series of funny, and heartfelt dates, she eventually realizes that her line of thinking may not have been the most efficient. All these ideas remain in the sequel, and it works really well sometimes. However, the issue is it makes her seem like she didn’t learn anything from the previous story.
In the end, this movie almost does what the first one did so well. When it lets these four ladies do what they do best, the movie is at its highest, but those high points don't come as often as they do in Book Club.
Book Club: The Next Chapter lacks the self-aware goofiness that the first movie thrived on.
The reason the first Book Club worked was its silly premise and the commitment to the bit. This idea that four older women would read 50 Shades of Grey together and react is hilarious, and the silliness of this idea is constant throughout the movie. The result of this approach and the self-awareness of just how ridiculous it is, is how we end up with a heartfelt story of these friends finding love in a time when they thought they couldn’t. There’s unexpected heart in the movie, and it’s written in a way that is both clever and moving in its own way.
In Book Club 2: The Next Chapter, they aren’t trying to be coy, and they aren’t going for a silly premise. While it’s hard to top the first Book Club’s conceit for the sequel, going in the opposite direction doesn’t totally work. Rather than picking the second 50 Shades or another novel that would make for an unexpected and funny book club choice, the titular group chooses The Alchemist, which is a serious and philosophical book by Paulo Coelho. While this story of travel and the pursuit of dreams is admirable and important, for this movie, that moral is a bit too on the nose and far too drama-heavy. The moral is plastered on the screen from the get-go in the sequel, and hammers home its lesson by reiterating it rather than having it coyly revealed through a funny movie.
This is the kind of movie that wants you to get tipsy with your gal pals to enjoy.
Wine is just as present in the movie as the women are. For every adventure they take, a glass of red or white awaits them. If you go see this movie, you should do the same thing as the stars: grab your gal pals and a bottle of wine, and just have a blast with it. Despite its efforts to the contrary, Book Club 2: The Next Chapter is meant to prompt a fun night out with your friends.
Some of my best memories with my friends were started by us watching a movie together, whether they are good, bad or mediocre – so long as it made us laugh and prompted fun conversation. This movie can do that; being able to chat through it, laugh with it, and share a bottle of wine with your pals whilst these ladies get up to their European adventure hijinks would be the ideal viewing experience. As someone who watched it alone, I had a hard time investing in the story and finding the fun in it because there wasn’t someone to share it with.
While this movie has some clear flaws, and is not nearly as fun as its predecessor, you can at least tell these four women had a blast making it. Being able to see the fun they’re having on-screen makes Book Club: The Next Chapter a pleasant watch, but you'll want a bottle of wine and your friends near for the optimal viewing experience.
Riley Utley is a Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. She spent many years working in local journalism across the country writing about art, news and sports. One of her favorite films is When Harry Met Sally and she walks around constantly quoting Ted Lasso.