Released: 23rd August
Seen: 16th September
How hard is this to get right? The formula is the most basic comedy idea that you could potentially have. Four women over 60 have a book club and decide to read 50 Shades of Grey (Seven years after the book was released, but who cares) and by reading that book they all have a new sexual awakening. The potential is right there, have a bunch of older women reading a naughty book, maybe they go to a sex shop to buy bondage gear. Girls Trip but for Seniors, the concept is there and it should work wonderfully… HOW DID THEY GET THIS SO WRONG!?
Instead of a potentially interesting idea, the plot follows Diane (Played by Diane Keaton), Vivian (Played by Jane Fonda), Sharon (Played by Candice Bergen) and Carol (Played by Mary Steenburgen) who have been part of the same book club for decades now and finally decide that for this months book club they’re going to read the “novel” Fifty Shades of Grey. As they’re reading it the four of them slowly start to demand what they actually want in their relationships, or at least go out to try and have an actual relationship. Each of them has their own woes. Diane hasn’t had a date since her husband died the year before. Vivian has been with several men but she’s fallen into a habit of having sex and then kicking them out without ever being able to make a real connection with the men she sees. Sharon hasn’t had sex in 18 years since her divorce from Tom (Played by Ed Begley Jr.). Carol hasn’t had sex in months ever since her husband Bruce (Played by Craig T. Nelson) retired.
As far as plots go this isn’t awful, except for one key thing. Fifty Shades of Grey never ever NEEDS to be the book that they pick to get the ball rolling. It could’ve been any generic Harlequin Romance novel, any old bodice ripper… hell, it could’ve been I’m Gay For My Living Billionaire Jet Plane by Chuck Tingle and it literally would’ve had no impact on the story because at NO point does anything in the book being read by the titular Book Club actually matter. Sure, they quote it because some of the quotes in Fifty Shades are the best comedy writing this side of the Marx Brothers but there is no actual story element in the book they’re reading that impacts the main characters. None of them tries spanking or whipping or goes to a sex shop. There’s a vibrator on the bed in one scene, I can assume it was freshly out of the packet because it’s never mentioned. You’re making a comedy where the entire foundation revolves around “Let’s read the kinky sex book” and you somehow find a way to do nothing with that idea? Hell, could you at least maybe have them point out that it’s a poorly written piece of fan fiction written by someone who knows as much about writing as she does about BDSM (Which is to say, nothing) and that it should be thrown into the nearest fire? Oh, you can’t do that? Oh because you want to get the writer to turn up for a very brief cameo to tell viewers that she signed off on this, which she obviously would since they make her out to be some kind of brilliant author? OK, fine, whatever.
Even if we ignore the glaring missed opportunity for a good comedic plot, what we’re left with is an uninteresting rom-com with all the typical rom-com trappings, from “Oh I have to run to the airport to stop him leaving” to “I’m going to dress sexy for my man who will ignore me and talk about riding his bike when I want him to ride me”. It’s paint by numbers writing that relies too heavily on the talent of its stars. The script is incredibly lucky that it has the likes of Keaton, Fonda, Bergen and Steenburgen trying to make it work because they’re able to extract laughs out of the awful material that they’ve been saddled with. The four lead actresses are some of the best performers of our lifetimes and they have to do this? The only upside to their casting in this movie is that it allowed me to sit in the cinema and dream cast all of them in a remake of Golden Girls that was playing in my head to keep me interested. For those interested, Bergen is Dorothy, Fonda is Blanche, Steenburgen is Rose and Keaton is Sophia. Tell me that wouldn’t be amazing.
The structure of this film perplexes me. It seems to me that the idea of the book club reading the Fifty Shades series lends itself perfectly to a three-act structure, separating each act by them reading a new book and using that as a framework to go around… silly me, trying to apply thought and creativity to this movie. They don’t even really bother trying, it’s the standard film but they read the book at random intervals, every story seems to climax at very different times with no real relation to each other. Like I said, the fact that they’re reading Fifty Shades means absolutely nothing whatsoever to the plot of the story or its structure or even its content, it’s a book series that was selected purely because it’s a known property that has name brand recognition. By not using the book that the characters are reading in any way, it makes a lot of the film uninteresting. I was so bored during this one that I sat there pulling the hairs out of my beard just in order to feel something.
Their stories are also bad in general. The worst storyline easily goes to Diane because while she’s trying to put herself out there, even meeting a pilot named Mitchell (Played by Andy Garcia) who she has a connection with… and is repeatedly told by her daughters Jill (Played by Alicia Silverstone) and Adrianne (Played by Katie Aselton) that she has to move in with them because she’s old and that means she’s basically a constant risk to herself and others. They literally force their mother to move out of her home so she can go cross country to live with them in Arizona (Because the Arizona heat is just goddamn perfect for an elderly woman, right?), making her leave her friends and community because they’re concerned. I swear it took all the strength I had not to yell “No, you two move to where SHE lives if you’re so damn concerned about her wellbeing you rejected Grady Twins!” because they annoyed me that much.
Carol’s storyline isn’t much better because she just keeps trying to sleep with her husband but literally never just says “Honey, can we have sex?” which would’ve at very least been humorous in its bluntness. But no, let’s put Mary Steenburgen in a waitress outfit and make her slip a viagra in his beer to try and make this work. Also, for the record, considering how much they rely on “Bruce has a perma-boner” for a joke in that scene, it’s weird how it looks like he has a growth coming out of his left thigh instead of a penis. Just saying, I’ve seen the “I can’t make my penis go down” joke enough times to know that they screwed it up.
Vivian’s plotline kind of works, mostly because I can absolutely buy it when Jane Fonda does the whole “I can sleep with anyone I want, even at 80” thing, she’s insanely talented and that character works well for her. She’s also the one who gets possibly the most obvious arc and potentially romantic story where she’s trying hard to deny her feelings for a former fling named Arthur (Played by Don Johnson) and slowly starts to realise it’s not so bad to be in a relationship. She also easily has the most fun character, again Jane Fonda is a pro at making this kind of character entertaining and fun but there’s only so much a great actress can do when her plot is the most interesting and the least important. She’s basically there to pick the book and to take part in banter with Candice Bergen’s character but that’s it really.
Sharon’s plot also kind of works, but it’s trimmed down so much that there are moments when it seems like they forgot that she was even there. Comedy-wise, it’s so helpful that Candice Bergen can do a “You’re all idiots” face better than anyone because she gives that look to a lot of people in this movie and it works. She knows how to deliver a punchline, even when that punchline feels like it’s just punching you in the face with its awfulness. Candice is also the only one who has to deal with two men during the movie because she tries online dating and we’re lucky that she actually has a good ability to make being annoyed look funny because that’s what a large number of her jokes were. They don’t even really use the idea of internet dating for any good jokes, she goes on two dates and both of them are fine. There’s a wealth of material there that you could work with, and they utilize NONE of it even when you have an actress who could’ve made it work wonderfully.
Visually it looks like something from a direct to DVD movie, down to the most laughable green screen flight scene I’ve seen in a while. I swear if the scene where Diane and Mitchell are flying in his plane isn’t green screen, that’s a rear projection gone wrong and if it’s neither of those things… oh my god, how did they make it look like that? It’s genuinely shocking how bland it looks most of the time, I know this isn’t exactly the easiest material to work with because there is no actual material here, but you could’ve tried. There’s maybe one good shot for a joke that involves, basically, a blowjob joke that almost works visually but other than that it’s just not trying hard… or at all. It’s almost like they spent all their money on the lead actresses and then didn’t bother hiring a cinematographer who could make something interesting to look at and instead they just decided to get the cat to tell them where to point the camera. Oh, there’s a cat in this film and it’s used to tell a “This pussy is tired” joke because of course it does.
Can we just be done with movies referencing Fifty Shades? Can we make that pact that we’ll never refer to that horrific book/movie series ever again? Because I’m scared that in a year I’m going to sit down to watch “Grey”, the movie adaptation of the novel of the same name that’s just Fifty Shades of Grey but from Christian’s point of view and I don’t want anymore, I didn’t want any in the first place but I want it even less now. This movie is the Homeopathic medicine of cinema. A tiny amount of something good that’s been diluted thousands upon thousands of times and still tries to pass itself off as something good when it really has no actual value and is just a giant waste of your time and money. The best you’ll get out of it is some mild hydration and that’s about it.