All You Need Is Love

By Jason Solomons

My Mum has been in a book club for as long as I can remember. Many evenings of my childhood were spent at the top of the stairs, silently listening to the sound of women arriving, the chatter, the clink of teacups and the smell of strawberry cheesecake. Remarkably, Mum and her friends are still at it. Their book club meets at various houses and flats across north-west London every month. I know they – now as then – did talk a bit about books, but other topics were certainly up for debate – school runs, children, holidays, poorly parents. Maybe I’d sloped off to bed by the time the ladies started talking about sex.

But if the new Hollywood film, Book Club, is to be believed, sex is the main topic of conversation among women of a certain age. The subjects combine, at least in this movie, when the girls make Fifty Shades of Grey their book of the month and the soft erotica in the pages of EL James's bonkbusting bestseller has actresses the calibre of Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda in a total tizzy. Keaton (playing newly widowed housewife Diane) and Fonda (successful, terminally single hotel owner Vivian) are joined in their titular Book Club by Candice Bergen – as Federal Court judge and divorcee Sharon – and Mary Steenburgen (frustrated caterer Carol). All of them, book club friends for over 30 years, are ‘stimulated’ by the book and, encouraged by the breezy Vivian, decide they deserve to ramp up their own sex lives, leading to a film that’s far more about libido than literature.

Such is the innuendo and sauciness, I half-expected Sid James and Kenneth Williams to show up. When Bergen’s Sharon takes her depressed cat to the vet, she gets the diagnosis: ‘What we have here is a lethargic pussy.’ Oo-er. Where’s Mollie Sugden when you need her?

Cue a flurry of gags about Viagra, the ‘corporal standing to attention’, and suddenly Diane’s on a date with a handsome pilot (Andy Garcia) and Vivian’s splashing about in a fountain with an old flame (Don johnson). Meanwhile, Sharon is interrupting court proceedings to answer her new internet dating website, and Carol is helping her husband (Craig T Nelson) oil a crankshaft in the garage. I’m all for a film that allows older women to talk about sex, and even have it. I’m even prepared to believe that the thought of having it might reduce mature matriarchs to giggling girls, especially with the size of the glasses of wine being guzzled here. But there’s no excuse for some of the ropey dialogue, nor some of the shoddy lighting and the awful Photoshopping of old family photos. In particular, Diane’s daughters (one is played by Alicia Silverstone) are dreadful caricatures. There are inevitably embarrassing dress-up montages as Diane picks an outfit for her date – surely everyone knows that nobody can style Keaton except Keaton – and a cringe-inducing one with Bergen getting all twisted up in what I think is a pair of Spanx.

TV shows like The Golden Girls or those nancy Myers films such as Something’s Gotta Give and It’s Complicated have demonstrated the charms of late-flowering love without patronising their characters, but Book Club seems to have skipped vital pages – maybe they should read some Nora Ephron next time. Of course, few of us can look as good as these actresses at their age, the 80-year-old Fonda being particularly astounding. nor do the characters shy away from acknowledging the help needed to maintain such physical standards. Yet amid the Hollywood nips and tucks and this script’s childish smirking, it’s the stabs of loneliness and the desire for fulfilment that come over as all too real. Like Sex and the City on HRT.