Film Review – Book Club: The Next Chapter (2023)

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Here’s the dilemma. While cinemas are still in post-COVID recovery mode, one particular age group is taking its time to return. Older film fans, according to a speaker at last month’s CinemaCon, feel the movies on offer don’t cater for them. So, with its lightweight story, big name stars and luscious locations, the arrival of Book Club: The Next Chapter seems tailor-made to bring them back. That’s what they want, right?

Or is it? Admittedly its anodyne predecessor, 2018’s Book Club, took enough at the box office to make a sequel inevitable but both films, together with others – most recently 80 For Brady – seem to be based on a strange theory that, past a certain age, audiences have switched off their intellects and can’t cope with anything more than mildly entertaining froth. It’s incorrect, it’s patronizing and, even if it were true, it’s no reason for the films themselves to be grindingly dull. In that way, this sequel is just like the original, except this time there’s little in the way of books. The four friends who discovered a new interest through Fifty Shades Of Grey in the original just about manage to keep the book club going through lock-down but, once life returns to something near normal, reading is abandoned in favour of a trip to Italy, one that turns into a bachelorette party.

As played by Fonda, Steenburgen, Keaton and Bergen, they’re supposed to be resolutely independent older women but the truth is that only Bergen gets close to having a mind of her own and, as such, is easily the most grounded and believable of the four. The other three float through proceedings but even their charms and years of acting experience can’t turn the leaden script into something vaguely entertaining. Nor can they make the constant embarrassing double entendres even mildly funny, so any pleasure that goes with seeing four class acts clearly enjoying working together simply isn’t there. It’s replaced by a niggling embarrassment.

Visually, the Italian settings are beautiful, but it would be hard to go wrong with the splendours of Rome, Venice and Tuscany and the locations have clearly been chosen for their perfection and impression of affluence. There are moments when it feels so much like a travelogue – and a cookery show – that you expect Stanley Tucci to show up. He may have improved things. Sadly, we’re saddled with a wedding planner who tries to be the Italian cousin of Martin Short in Father Of The Bride and fails dismally.

Yes, we need more movies about female friendship: ones that place older women right at the forefront are noticeable by their absence at the moment. But they need to give experienced performers scripts to relish and storylines that at least hold together. That doesn’t happen here and the considerable talent on show is left stranded in a hollow vacuum.


Comedy | Cinemas, 12 May 2023 | Universal Studios | Cert: 12A | Dir: Bill Holderman | Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen, Don Johnson, Andy Garcia, Craig T Nelson.