Mike at the Movies: “Book Club 2: The Next Chapter” Leaves Viewers Wanting Another
by MIKE ORLOCK
It is impolite, I know, to reveal a woman’s age, but one of the remarkable things about The Book Club 2: The Next Chapter (PG-13) is how good its four Hollywood grandes dames look. Jane Fonda, at 85, is the matriarch of the group, followed by Diane Keaton and Candice Bergen at 77. That would make Mary Steenburgen, at 70, the ingenue.
All of them appear as vital and vibrant, sassy and saucy, as they did 20 years ago, which is a testament to whatever lifestyle routine they’ve embraced. (Just for the purposes of fair play, the five guys playing arm candy opposite these women – Don Johnson, Andy García, Giancarlo Giannini, Hugh Quarshie and Craig T. Nelson – are, respectively, 73, 67, 80, 69 and 79, and each of them has weathered the vagaries of the world quite well, too.)
I wasn’t a fan of the first installment of The Book Club five years ago, which had these women reading and reenacting chapters of E.L. James’ scandalous S-M potboiler Fifty Shades of Grey, but The Next Chapter pretty much eschews the embarrassing hijinks of squeezing into leather lingerie for cheap laughs and sends them off on a post-COVID trip to Italy, inspired by their latest book-club selection, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.
They even make it a senior-style “bachelorette bash” when Fonda’s Vivian shares the surprising news that Arthur – the high school sweetheart she’s recently reencountered, suavely played by a low-key Don Johnson – has asked her to marry him after all these years, and she’s agreed.
So it’s off to the Mediterranean for Vivian, Sharon (Bergen), Carol (Steenburgen) and Diane (Keaton), which gives co-writer and director Bill Holderman and his cinematographer, Andrew Dunn, ample opportunity to frame these lovely ladies against some truly vintage scenery, such as the Spanish Steps in Rome, the Grand Canal in Venice, and those lush, verdant hills of Tuscany. As a travelogue romance, The Next Chapter succeeds amazingly well in making the Italian peninsula a supporting character in the story, such as it is.
Holderman and his writing collaborator, Erin Simms, give us a hint of plot, shoe-horned between sips of wine on sun-drenched porches and an afternoon spent dress shopping for Vivian’s impending nuptials.
The women also fall prey to a couple of scammers and lose their luggage while negotiating the train station in Rome, which sends them into repeated interactions with Giannini’s crusty police chief, who keeps turning up wherever they seem to wander.
Sharon, a retired lawyer and judge, is quick to find fault with his lazy policing, which lands the foursome in jail for a night before insults turn to flirting, and soon he’s playing the hero, whisking them to Florence for an engagement Vivian can’t miss. Now that’s amore!
There’s pleasure to be had watching this seasoned cast go through their paces in leisurely and relaxed fashion, especially for audience members of a certain age (like me) who are exhausted by the manic mayhem of such movies as Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3 and Fast X. It’s nice to watch old pros do their thing, crafting convincing characters with a subtle gesture or sly smile.
And the four leading ladies appear to be enjoying each other’s company, too, forming a senior sisterhood that seems especially poignant, given the circumstances of time and career. Like the best entries in this new “golden years genre” (The Best Exotic Marigold Motel, A Man Called Otto and Living, among them), this Book Club leaves me hoping for another chapter.
The Book Club 2: The Next Chapter is currently playing exclusively in theaters. You can expect to find it streaming, probably on Peacock, sometime midsummer, but there’s something to be said for seeing this trip to Italy on the big screen. Buon viaggio!
In another lifetime, Mike Orlock wrote film reviews for the Reporter/Progress newspapers in the western suburbs of Chicago. He has also taught high school English, coached basketball and authored three books of poetry. He finished his two-year term as Door County’s poet laureate earlier this year.