Sometimes, you get completely caught off-guard by a new movie that you didn’t think would be your thing at all. That happened to me in 2018 when I saw Book Club – a cosy comedy about four older women who give their romantic lives a shot of adrenaline when they read Fifty Shades of Grey as part of their book club.
It certainly wouldn’t make any list of the best movies of all time, but it was charming and funny. It made more than $100m worldwide, so I obviously wasn’t the only one getting high on second-hand red wine fumes.
Inevitably, a sequel got the green light. But what to do with the story? Well, it’s time to break the emergency glass beloved of the best comedy movie franchises and reach for the dusty box marked, “I dunno, they go on a nice holiday, I guess”.
Fortunately, the four main cast members are back. Vivian (Jane Fonda) has just got engaged, so her three friends – Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen), and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) – decide to take her to Italy on the bachelorette trip of her dreams.
From then on, everything you expect to happen happens. Do they play ‘Mambo Italiano’? Yes, immediately. Do they wear Venetian masks? Yes, immediately. Do they say “when in Rome…”? Yes, immediately.
This is a prime example of a sequel nobody expected to make, and that comes through in the complete lack of invention. The movie’s opening is set during the pandemic and delivers the same parade of Zoom gags we all got tired of three years ago – “you’re on mute”, “why am I a potato?”, etc – though the fact their webcams all deliver glistening HD video gets an unintended chuckle.
While the first movie appeared to trust its ensemble of some of the best actors in history to deliver the comedy goods, returning screenwriters Erin Simms and Bill Holderman – who also directs once again – have over-engineered this one to within an inch of its life. The contrivances come thick and fast, while some scenes seem to just meander on far beyond their logical limits in the hope that a punchline will eventually arrive. Often, they don’t.
There’s a common myth that men think about sex every seven seconds, but Book Club 2 seems to posit that these characters think and talk about wine even more often than that. To say all four women are crude stereotypes is an understatement. Certainly, the bottles of vino stack up more quickly than the laughs.
We don’t see for sure that they all have a cheesy statement like “of course size matters, who wants a small glass of wine?” written on their kitchen walls, but we can safely assume that they do.
But this isn’t a complete disaster of a movie. Candice Bergen brings acidic joy to her ample supply of one-liners, while a running gag about a very patient string quartet in the third act is consistently funny. Ghanaian-British actor Hugh Quarshie also deserves credit for stealing the middle part of the movie with his turn as the preposterously handsome Ousmane, who ends up as a new romantic interest for Bergen.
The bright spots, though, are fairly scant in a movie that feels like an exercise in trying to cash in on a surprise hit, hoping that these hugely talented acting legends could rescue a tired script and turn it into one of the best rom-coms of the year. There isn’t enough wine in the world, sadly. Chillingly, there’s a clear tease for Book Club 3 too. Better crack open another bottle.
For some 2023 movies that will hopefully turn out a little better, check out our guides to the Barbie movie release date, the Oppenheimer release date, the Indiana Jones 5 release date, and the Wonka release date.
Book Club 2 review (2023)
Despite four comedy legends in the cast and enough red wine to fill the Nile – thanks, Gal Gadot – this is a tired sequel in search of a purpose, and laughter.