' ' Cinema Romantico: Book Club: The Next Chapter

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Book Club: The Next Chapter

As the title suggested, the original “Book Club” of 2018 was about, like, you know, a book club in which four adult women reinvent their lives while reading “50 Shades of Grey.” In “The Next Chapter” follow-up, however, aside from an opening prologue, in which our four returning heroines – Vivian (Jane Fonda), Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen), and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) – read some books over Zoom during the Pandemic and a few subsequent occasional nods to Paulo Coelho’s 1988 novel “The Alchemist,” director Bill Holderman’s sequel essentially eschews a book club for a road trip through Italy as Vivian, who never wanted to get married, is on the verge of marrying Arthur (Don Johnson). Let’s call this “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” cinema, less a movie than a movie as a breezy vacation, for us and for its stars, who do generally come across amused, especially in the moments when you can detect Bergen, not Sharon, trying to make her co-stars crack. Why it even has a song and semi-dance number, introducing one handsome interloper (Hugh Quarshie) so he can sing in “Gloria” in Italian, paving the way for Queen Steen to indulge her real-life accordion passion. [Insert scene where Mary Steenburgen plays accordion here.]

This easygoing air is reflected in a screenplay, co-written by Erin Simms and Holderman, where dramatic conflict hardly exists and the 101 basics like narrative connective tissue are sometimes renounced altogether. When the four friends trek by train from Rome to Venice, their luggage is stolen, though this mostly just manifests as a call for carpe diem. What’s more, when they are shown wearing new clothes, no explanation is given of where these clothes came from, not even providing a frivolous shopping montage. No, their stylish duds just magically appear, underlining how things happen, like a light-hearted night in the Tuscany clink where the cell comes complete with four cots, as if they were waiting specifically for our quartet.

They wind up in jail because Diane has illegally brought along her late husband’s ashes to scatter. This, along with Carol’s semi-dalliance with a chef (Vincent Riotta) from her previous life while husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) recovers from a heart attack back home, are intended as the script’s emotional complications but barely register, passing like a sun shower, while the ostensible screwball machinations of the climactic double wedding and a Police Chief (Giancarlo Giannini) who always appears at just the wrong moment never come to a froth; they barely come to a fizz. That ultimately marks “Book Club: The Next Chapter” as a movie that could only be enjoyed the way I watched it, on an airplane, on the way to Europe, and on the way to Europe for the first time since being stuck in Europe for 21 days. On occasion, every once in a damn while, despite the truism about life being difficult, for God’s sake, you just want things to be easy. 

No comments: