In between “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” (Star-)lording over the competition and “Fast X” running over anything in its path comes “Book Club: The Next Chapter.” This film’s marketing department looked at a lineup of second-tier holidays and noticed that nothing was opening the weekend of Mother’s Day, so this got slotted in. It’s as good a release strategy as any – it’s not like there was some better weekend to release this dreck - but I fear the only bonding children will be doing with their mothers while watching this movie is commiserating over how stupid it is.
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I did not watch the entirety of “Book Club” from 2018, but I did catch some highlights to prepare for this film. The premise was that a group of four female friends all read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and were inspired to take some initiative in their lives. Widow Diane (Diane Keaton) decided that it was okay to pursue a relationship with Mitchell (Andy Garcia). Married Carol (Mary Steenbergen) rekindled her romance with husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson). Divorcee Sharon (Candace Bergen) decided to give online dating an open-ended try. And maneater Vivian (Jane Fonda) decided that old flame Arthur (Don Johnson) was Mr. Right. In the time between movies, Diane has moved in with Mitchell, Carol lost her restaurant to the pandemic (and nearly lost Bruce to a heart attack), Sharon retired from her federal judgeship, and most importantly, Vivian accepted a marriage proposal from Arthur.
The ladies go to Italy for an elaborate bachelorette party. They go shopping, crack PG-13-friendly sex jokes, and practically deplete the country of its wine supply. I don’t think money or expense is mentioned once. In fact, the entire movie seems like little more than an excuse for the cast and crew to enjoy Italy themselves, a theory confirmed by the vacation-y photos that play over the credits.
Inconvenience finally rears its head when the group’s bags get stolen. The ashes of Diane’s husband were in that bag, as she had planned to spread them on the trip. Other storylines include Sharon having a fling with a philosophy professor (Hugh Quarshie, admittedly the movie’s best surprise – the main can sing!) and running afoul of a local police officer (Vincent Riotta), Carol meeting up with an old boyfriend (Giancarlo Giannini), and Vivian questioning if she wants to go through with the marriage. I know the movie is ostensibly about the bachelorette party, but let’s just say this isn’t the kind of movie that doesn’t end with a gorgeous destination wedding.
The movie is essentially a cross between “Sex and the City” and “Mamma Mia!” (readers expecting me to compare it to another movie, I’m getting there, I assure you) with all the wealth/travel porn and gentle sexual humor. Some of the jokes are truly painful. A typical scene: A waiter tells Carol, “The chef would like to show you his cucina.” “His ‘what?’” Anybody with common sense can tell that he means “kitchen” based on context, but not the characters in this movie. That’s why it doesn’t work nearly as well as “80 for Brady.”
I take back what I said earlier about there not being a better weekend for “Book Club: The Next Chapter.” A better weekend would be one far, far, removed from that similar film – at least six months away instead of three. It’s not so much that there’s only room for one movie about four senior women (one of whom is played by Jane Fonda), it’s that the other movie was so funny and heartfelt that it draws even more attention to the laziness of this one. I hope you all had a happy Mother’s Day and did something more fulfilling than seeing this lousy movie.
“Book Club: The Next Chapter” is rated PG-13 for some strong language and suggestive material. Its running time is 107 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.