“Book Club,” which Paramount releases in theaters on Friday, is the kind of film that occurs about as often as a solar eclipse. It’s a movie released by a major studio that puts its older, female actresses at the center of the plot and the top of the call sheet.
So it’s appropriate that one of the earliest glimpses into the production of the movie was of stars Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen during August’s solar eclipse.
The quartet play lifelong friends whose lives are changed when they encounter the “Fifty Shades of Grey” books. The ensemble comedy is the first time that any of the four women have worked on a project together, and the star-studded cast also includes Don Johnson, Craig T. Nelson, Andy Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss, Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton and Wallace Shawn.
“Usually, when older women get offered roles, it’s as somebody’s mean grandmother or kooky aunt,” Fonda says. “But to have full-blooded, multidimensional female characters who are over the age of 60 at the front of a movie like this is unusual.”
Keaton plays Diane, a mother of two who is recently widowed after 40 years of marriage; Fonda plays Vivian, a hit hotelier who enjoys her share of unattached men; Steenburgen plays Carol, a noted chef whose long-term marriage is in a slump; and Bergen plays Sharon, an accomplished federal judge still working through a decades-old divorce.
They individually grapple with how women over a certain age are often devalued by society, their own families and even themselves. By telling the stories of not just one, but four, older female characters — which is already an oddity in Hollywood — “Book Club” “shows the breadth of women and their accomplishments and their friendships, which is shown in a way that’s true and funny and real,” says Bergen. “The movie says to all women: Don’t give up so fast. Life goes on for much longer than you think it does.”
I loved watching these four stars together, whining over wine about their past relationships, current reads and future goals. But as a millennial, I was particularly struck by the occasions in which Keaton’s Diane is nagged by her daughters (played by Aselton and Silverstone). In each of their scenes, the two repeatedly stress safety concerns and how Diane is in constant danger of dying in one way or another.
Such scoldings — especially those condescendingly coupled with the generalized phrases “your generation” and “at your age” without any hesitation — belittle Diane, boiling her down to her roles of “mother,” “wife” and “elderly person” rather than addressing her as who she is: a real, whole person with many years under her belt and perhaps decades still ahead.
As Fonda’s character Vivian says, “I am not gonna let us become those people. You know what people, the people who stop living before they stop living.”
Fonda says that line as she introduces the other three visibly-reluctant readers to “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Screenwriters and producers Bill Holderman and Erin Simms were initially inspired by how the 2011 erotic romance novel became a cultural phenomenon, and specifically shook up the lives of each of their mothers.
“When we wrote this script, it really wasn’t to fill a vacancy in the marketplace,” says Holderman, who also directed the film.
They sold their script, but “it was tough — we had a lot of pressure to go younger with the cast,” says Holderman.
“I loved the script because it was a real embracing of a female friendship that I don’t think we’re seeing in movies very often,” says producer Alex Saks.
“Book Club” is debuting in a time that’s surprisingly packed with movies tailored for a female audience, arriving in theaters after the releases of “Blockers,” “I Feel Pretty,” “Tully,” “Overboard,” “Life of the Party” and “Breaking In.”
“It’s no secret that a lot of summer films are aimed at 12-year-old boys — or, the equivalent of that mindset. That’s been going on for far too long,” says box-office analyst Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations.
This summer’s onslaught of offerings for the underserved female audience will continue with “Ocean’s 8,” “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,” “The Spy Who Dumped Me” and “Crazy Rich Asians.”