Book Club: The Next Chapter brings back the first film’s quartet of female stars for a largely unwarranted, mostly unfunny sequel. In 2018, Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen starred in Book Club as a quartet of senior citizens whose lives are unexpectedly stimulated by their reading of 50 Shades of Grey. That first film had its charms, not the least of which being the opportunity to see this all-star cast of mature ladies having an apparent blast together. Even though all the tittering about the oh-so-naughty 50 Shades was admittedly passé by the time Book Club was released, the E.L. James romance novel provided a suitable hook upon which to hang the characters’ reemerging love lives.
The Next Chapter has no such thematically unifying element (read: gimmick). This time around, returning writer-director Bill Holderman seems to believe that simply assembling the ladies once again will be enough. Vivian (Fonda) is planning to marry Arthur (Don Johnson) in Italy. This provides the perfect opportunity for her, Diane (Keaton), Sharon (Bergen) and Carol (Steenburgen) to frolic throughout Italy for a bachelorette trip. The men from the first film, particularly Carol’s hubby Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) and Diane’s main squeeze Mitchell (Andy Garcia), are slighted as they are left stateside. In fact, their presence in the film provides nothing more than a couple of additional (and cursory) connections to the original.
Book Club Nods Ineffectively to the Pandemic
The film opens with a very superficial nod to the COVID-19 pandemic as the gal pals are temporarily unable to meet in person. The pandemic-era “humor” found in their lighthearted Zoom session already feels terribly dated after seeing such inconveniences referenced in everything from SNL sketches to coffee commercials. They might as well have not even mentioned it. The demographic these characters fit into is, of course, the most vulnerable to COVID. To address the deadly pandemic, with the horrible toll it took on the senior citizen community, with such a wink and a nod feels insensitive. And since it’s dismissed so quickly, never referenced again, it feels like a pointless inclusion.
The manufactured shenanigans of their road trip through Italy, including a prolonged episode involving their car breaking down that leads to a brief detention in jail, aren’t enough to sustain interest. What Book Club: The Next Chapter most resembles is Grown Ups 2, in terms of overall tone and approach (albeit targeted at a different viewership). The first Grown Ups felt a little indulgent, but it was a fun romp with its heart in the right place. The second Grown Ups was just Adam Sandler reassembling his buddies for no particular reason, other than the first film having made money. That’s pretty much the case with Book Club: The Next Chapter.
That said, for those who can’t get enough of this franchise, the collector’s edition Book Club: The Next Chapter Blu-ray includes three featurettes. “Back in Session” is a jovial look at the reuniting of the cast members. “Still Stylish” focuses on the clothing and fashions on display throughout the film. “The Women in Italy” takes a closer look the locations, which admittedly are the real star of this big-budget travelogue.