Book Club has a simple enough premise: Four women over 60 share friendship and wine as part of a reading club. But when one character brings the seriously sexy book Fifty Shades of Grey into the club, the women begin to reexamine their sexuality, asking questions about where they currently stand on love, romance and hot sex. In the time of #MeToo, it’s a joy to see women on-screen exploring their sexuality at a stage in their lives when women are typically discounted by society and sometimes by themselves.
What adds authenticity and excitement to this story is the amazing cast of women who no doubt relate to all these issues surrounding sexuality, feminism and aging. At 80, Jane Fonda leads the pack with a lifetime of experience and lovers. Mary Steenburgen brings her own Southern femininity to this quartet of gals as she questions her traditional values. Candice Bergen is tough and intellectual, as if the actor and character of Murphy Brown are forever intertwined. Then there’s Diane Keaton, the beauty who’s managed to continue her acting career with romantic comedies into her 70s. Though the characters in Book Club are invented, it’s easy to see how much resonates with the actors in their honest, sometimes uncomfortable, often hilarious portrayals of these women who are just like us, our mothers and our grandmothers.
While we’ve all read Fifty Shades of Grey, for some ridiculous reason, it’s a little embarrassing to think about our mothers reading it (and getting excited by it). Trying to picture mom and pop in a red room… OK, we won’t. When the writers of Book Club, Erin Simms and Bill Holderman, pitched their idea to producers, they were told they would never get the rights to use Fifty Shades in the movie. Simms and Holderman sent their script to author E. L. James, and guess what? She absolutely loved it. But why wouldn’t she? Both Book Club and Fifty Shades are celebrations of female sexuality.
Though the four women in the movie are inspired and titillated by Fifty Shades, none of them reenact any of the BSDM shenanigans. There’s no spanking, flogging or handcuffs in the movie — just women curious about whether they are still sexual creatures.
As many of us get older, it’s easy to feel less relevant, less sexy and less engaged in the world considering youth culture dominates everything in the media. Book Club, along with a few other film gems like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Quartet and Victoria & Abdul, portray women over 60 as independent, curious and confident given that they’ve had decades of life experience. Sex is just one part of their lives, which they may choose to engage in or not. Ultimately, the most important thing — as Jane Fonda’s character finds out in the film — is that they give and receive love. After all, even Christian Grey, as tortured a soul as he is, falls in love. That’s the power of Christian and Anastasia’s story. If it were just about racy, edgy sex, it wouldn’t have had the cultural impact it did.
The other thing Book Club gets right is showing the power of friendship. As we get older, most women come to rely on our female friends as much, if not more, than the men in our lives. While female relationships can be competitive in nature when we’re young, that seems to go away as we age, leaving just the true bonds of friendship to flower. The four women in the film support each other with a deep love and understanding that’s rarely possible for women in their 20s or 30s. Life experience seems to take friendship to a much deeper level, and that’s a very comforting thing.
While it’s unlikely Book Club will win any big awards or break the box office, it’s sure to give many women of all ages an emotional boost, a reason to laugh and to look forward to getting older. Go see it.