Book Club [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (18th August 2018).
The Film

Hotelier Vivian (klute's Jane Fonda), judge Sharon (The Hunting Partner's Candice Bergen), chef Carol (Time After Time's Mary Steenburgen), and housewife Diane (Annie Hall's Diane Keaton) have been friends since college and find time around their busy schedules to get together monthly by way of a book club which is as much an opportunity to drink, eat, and vent about the dissatisfactions of their lives. Since turning down the love of her life Arthur (A Boy and His Dog's Don Johnson) forty years ago, Vivian has had no shortage of complication free relationships, but she does not realize how empty her private life is until Arthur shows up out of the blue on business and wanting to reconnect. Sharon has not missed sex in eighteen years, but the discovery that her son Andrew (Joey Stromberg) and formerly boring ex-husband Tom (She Devil's Ed Begley Jr.) are throwing a double engagement party (with fiancées who are roughly the same age) pushes her to explore the world of online dating. Falling asleep together in front of the TV is no longer cutting it for Carol whose husband Bruce (Poltergeist's Craig T. Nelson) has been experiencing psychosomatic erectile dysfunction since his retirement party, and her overtures at romance are going over his head. Ever since Diane's husband died the year before, her grown daughters (Clueless's Alicia Silverstone and The Gift's Kate Aselton) believe that she is completely helpless and want her to move closer to them in Arizona and join the ranks of the geriatric walking dead; however, she has just met handsome pilot Mitchell (When A Man Loves A Woman's Andy Garcia) and the turbulence is stimulating. Vivian's choice for the book club of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Gray trilogy is a deliberately provocative one, but the salacious passages open up a dialogue among the group about their sexual needs while pushing each to be more adventurous in the love lives they once though were behind them.

The Fifty Shades of Gray series of books – more so than the execrable film series – has already been the butt of jokes about "mom porn" but the idea of them as "grandma porn" in Book Club is neither as funny on an "old people talking about kinky sex" level or as bone-chilling as the threatened sequel to Bad Moms Christmas in which the previous generation (Thelma & Louise's Susan Sarandon, Cybill's Christine Baranski, and Curb Your Enthusiasm's Cheryl Hines) cut loose in Las Vegas because the film has no bite. It really has no substance either, since the aforementioned open dialogue is no more illuminating than the average Sex and the City brunch, nor does the film have its mature and self-possessed female characters offer up more than the gentlest criticisms of the books they are meant to be discussing (at least partially out of consideration to cameoing author James). There is also no real conflict in the film: the audience knows from the start that Diane will eventually stand up to her daughters and take a chance on Mitchell, that Vivian will do the mad dash to the airport to proclaim her love for Arthur, that Bruce will eventually respond to Carol's needs with a climactic romantic gesture, and that Sharon – who seems to make no more effort to get to know her son's fiancée (The Florida Project's Sabina Friedman-Seitz) than that of her ex-husband who is written off by her and the audience as a bimbo (Episodes' Mircea Monroe) – will glean from those relationships the courage it takes to put oneself out there (and that she will pick Richard Dreyfuss [Jaws] over Wallace Shawn [The Princess Bride]). As the film flits between the four storylines – which are more clichéd and overfamiliar from the relatability of such situations to people of a certain age – what "humor" it has to offer up to the audience is the neglected vagina euphemism as "The Cave of Forgotten Dreams" or Sharon being told that she has a "lethargic pussy" when she brings her cat to the vet (Flight's Ravi Kapoor). Characterization of any of the supporting players never rises above the functional – from the Diane's interchangeable daughters and the husband of one of them (Casual's Tommy Dewey) to Sharon's secretary (My Crazy Ex's Cole Gleason) or the segue way-riding park security officer (Michael Gmur) who catches Vivian and Arthur splashing in a fountain or the traffic cop (Marisa Chen Moller) who pulls over Bruce for driving with a Viagara-induced erection – their ultimate purpose to pull incredulous faces upon catching each of the main quartet at embarrassing moments. There's definitely an intriguing idea here, be it a serious drama or a more observant comedy, but Book Club feels almost deliberately underdeveloped so as not to actually make anyone in front of the camera or the screen truly uncomfortable.
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Video

Paramount's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.40:1 widescreen Blu-ray features a proficient encode of a film that looks rather flat by design with sunny exteriors and bright interiors in which the wardrobe is sometimes the only thing that sets the actors apart from the backgrounds. This is not a flaw in the photography, just an aesthetic choice that flatters the older female and male members of the cast.
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Audio

Audio options include a front-oriented DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track along with descriptive audio as well as French and Spanish dubs in Dolby Digital 5.1. Optional English, English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are included (the DVD side drops one of the English subtitle tracks while the main audio is also Dolby Digital 5.1).
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Extras

Extras start off with "It All Started With a Book" (10:56) in which co-author Erin Simms (A Walk in the Woods) and co-author/director Bill Holderman (The Conspirator) discuss the origins of the project. Simms recalls the anecdote about being asked by Holderman to send the James books to his mother - with whom he has a more relaxed relationship compared to hers with her own mother - and she ended up sending her own mother the books as well. They discuss how the story formed with them basing the main characters on temperaments their mothers (and her stepmother), how the script sat with Miramax (where Weinstein wanted them to cast younger) and they ended up buying back their option early before the studio could re-option. They discuss writing and rewriting for the actors they wanted and the ways they went about contacting them through networks of friends. "Casting Book Club" (13:43) features a discussion with the main female and male cast members about their characters, their chemistry, and some of their past collaborations (including Nelson who appeared with Fonda in Grace and Frankie - a series in which Fonda plays another older character rediscovering the dating scene - played Keaton's husband in The Family Stone, and Steenburgen's husband in The Proposal). The filmmakers discuss the Los Angeles setting and the existing locations used and augmented to suit the actresses in "Location, Location, Location" (9:47) while the main cast discuss the film's themes of friendship and reinventing oneself in "A New Chapter" (9:03). Also included is "Living in the Moment" (3:48), a music video, while the deleted scenes (11:11) are all relatively short but show just how much some of the supporting roles were cut down (most interesting is a variant edit of Sharon's toast at her son's and husband's dual engagement party).
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Overall

There's definitely an intriguing idea here, be it a serious drama or a more observant comedy, but Book Club feels almost deliberately underdeveloped so as not to actually make anyone in front of the camera or the screen truly uncomfortable.
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