MAY 18, 2018 -- Bill Holderman's directorial debut is an odd combination of veteran talent that works hard to be compatible, but leaves you with that glaring question in your head..."How did they become friends?" It is however to their credit that the film comes off as well as it does.


The principle veteran talent is Jane Fonda (81), Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen (both 72) and Mary Steenburgen (65). The support cast are basically the men they get involved with including Andy Garcia (62), Craig T Nelson (74), Don Johnson, Ed Begley Jr.(both 69), Richard Dreyfus (71) and Wallace Shawn (75). While it may not be politically correct to draw attention to each actors age it is interesting how Holderman matched them up.


The story revolves around the four gals Diane (Keaton), Vivian (Fonda), Sharon (Bergen) and Carol (Steenburgen) meeting for their monthly book club. They've known each other for many, many years (though it is clear that Carol is much younger than the rest) and have chosen E. L. James bestselling novel Fifty Shades of Grey as their latest book... in fact they will be reading the entire trilogy.

At the same time, they are having challenges in their own romantic lives. Carol is married to Bruce (Nelson) and he sems to have lost interest in their once steamy sex life. Vivian, who previously slept around has just run into the one man she nearly made a permanent relation, Arthur (Johnson). Sharon is fuming over the fact that her long time ex-husband Tom (Begley) is getting ready to marry a much, much, much young woman (Mircea Monroe - who is actually 36). And recently widowed Diane has just met a airline pilot - Mitchell (Garcia) - who has the hots for her.


Obviously, the steamy nature of their selected book has skewed their senses and made each horny for a relationship including Sharon who as a federal judge has a critical view of what men are good for; she also doesn't find herself attractive, but she decides to try online dating. Diane has the problem of her two daughters wanting to take over her life because they've decided she's too old to live on her own - let alone be in a budding relationship. Vivian has decided she isn't going to sleep with Arthur and Carol is desperate to sleep with her husband again.


Keaton and Steenburgen bring the most believable life to their characters, their is a genuine realism to their lives. The film could have easily been about just those two and been a much better film.


Bergen comes off as stiff and forced. It seems she is trying to revive her Molly Brown personae but without nearly the witty sarcasm. She hooks up with Dreyfuss and Shawn in what should have been moments of hilarity (especially since Shawn appeared on Murphy Brown with her), but the scenes fall flat. Fonda seems like she's only interested in demonstrating that she looks tremendous for her age, but the dialogue between she and Johnson is hardly believable. This is where a more seasoned director would have helped.


Probably the most disappointing scenes are the scenes featuring just the four ladies, you expect a crisp repartee, but merely get half heart lines being recited.


"Book Club" should have been much better than it is, given the talent. Diane Keaten and Mary Steenburgen nearly save it with their endearing portrayals, but it really needed the entire ensemble to click for it to work.   -- GRADE C --   GEOFF BURTON