Truthfully, Book Club: The Next Chapter gave me a bit of déjà vu upon seeing the movie’s earliest marketing. Not only has it been a few (very long) years since the first film, but it follows hot on the heels of not only 80 for Brady but also Moving On. It’s been a very productive year for the First Ladies of Hollywood. As I’ve made clear, I would watch any of these women read the phone book, so I had no choice but to check it out. Would Book Club: The Next Chapter find another story worth telling? Or should this book just stay on the nightstand? Read on. 

Book Club: The Next Chapter follows the characters from the first film who, now that the pandemic is over, decide they need to jump back into the world. Whether it’s Sharon (Candice Bergen) coming out of retirement seclusion and deciding to enjoy life or Vivian (Jane Fonda) realizing that maybe she does love Arthur (Don Johnson) enough to commit her perennially single self to one man. They’re fabulous, living life and now that they’re traveling again, they’re going to Italy. Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia and Craig T. Nelson co-star in the movie. Bill Holderman directs Book Club: The Next Chapter from a script he co-wrote with Erin Simms

Mary Steenburgen, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Jane Fonda pose in front of a fountain in Book Club: The Next Chapter.

(l-r) Mary Steenburgen stars as Carol, Jane Fonda as Vivian, Diane Keaton as Diane and Candice Bergen as Sharon in BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER, a Focus Features release. Credit: © 2023 FIFTH SEASON, LLC

Diving into this tale of wish-fulfillment and living life to its fullest, it immediately seems (at least early in the narrative) the movie is attempting to function as Sex and the City for the over seventies. The trailer shows this off perfectly. While there are many chuckle-inducing lines, just as many end up feeling very forced. 

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Yours truly has repeatedly advocated for an embrace of sexuality across our lifespan. Just because a woman turns 75, it doesn’t mean she’s any less “thirsty.” 80 For Brady shows us this very well. Being a grandmother doesn’t mean it’s necessary to act like one.

However, the early acts ground their humor in a desperation to be quippy. This franchise has already shown itself to easily juggle these characters and find not just thirst but humanity. This time out, though, the script is so intent on being funny that they lose sight of the characters for a while. These actresses are too good for that.

Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenbergen ride a boat and point out beautiful locations in Book Club: The Next Chapter.

(l-r) Diane Keaton stars as Diane, Jane Fonda as Vivian, Candice Bergen as Sharon and Mary Steenburgen as Carol in BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER, a Focus Features release. Credit: © 2023 FIFTH SEASON, LLC

That said, this movie shines when it steps back and lets this foursome emerge and be the dominating force they can be. Jane Fonda and Candice Bergen grew up in Hollywood and have dominated the big and small screen for six decades. Diane Keaton was in The Godfather, for crying out loud. There are no slouches here. 

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This is seen in its most stunning clarity in the final sequence. I’ll shy away from spoilers, but as the narrative comes to a close, the movie learns to relax. It stops trying so hard. The resulting sequence is a genuinely beautiful examination of everything making these women not only friends but themselves. It’s funny, it’s poignant and it’s romantic. I won’t lie; I found myself a little misty multiple times throughout. 

Meanwhile, it probably doesn’t need to be said, but it is apparently impossible to make these corners of Italy not look good. Holderman gels with cinematographer Andrew Dunn to create a movie that might as well be a tourist brochure for Italy at its finest. It’s bright and crisp, and everything looks immaculate.

Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen walk through an airport side-by-side with their luggage trailing behind them in Book Club: The Next Chapter.

(l-r) Diane Keaton stars as Diane, Jane Fonda as Vivian, Candice Bergen as Sharon and Mary Steenburgen as Carol in BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER, a Focus Features release. Credit: Riccardo Ghilardi / © 2023 FIFTH SEASON, LLC

Ultimately, Book Club: The Next Chapter is dangerously close to a work of frothy wish fulfillment. It’s “chick lit.” So, this is how it needs to look! There’s little heavy character “stuff” weighing down the script. The focus is instead watching these likable women find themselves in beautiful locations. There might be fights and some drama along the way, but there’s never a question that things aren’t going to end perfectly fine.

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Book Club: The Next Chapter is precisely what it’s marketed as. This is a fun, frothy film and a perfect fit for Mother’s Day. It’s bright, and it goes down oh-so-smooth. Is it the most complicated? No. Does it work a bit too hard for laughs in places? There is an “amuse-bouche” joke. Enough said. Despite all this, this dynamic group of women shows that life doesn’t stop at 60. These talented performers are having a heck of a lot of fun in these beautiful locations, and that’s good enough for me.  

Book Club: The Next Chapter debuts in theaters nationwide on May 12, 2023.

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Kimberly Pierce
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