Book Club: The Next Chapter Review | The Trip to Olive Garden

by Andrew Parker

If all you want from a film is that it be good enough to serve as background noise while drinking wine with friends, Book Club: The Next Chapter certainly fits that bill. The screening of the film I attended was packed with groups of friends who would keep chatting and carrying on throughout the film with a glass of wine or bag of popcorn in hand. Whenever something funny or surprising happened in Book Club: The Next Chapter, these people would snap back to the film, react, and then going back to hanging out with their friends. If it were just a single couple sitting behind me, I would’ve said something, but this was pretty much the entire theatre of about two hundred people.

And if I’m being honest, the vibe was nice and not as annoying as that sounds; better than the film itself, actually. There’s something undeniably comforting about Book Club: The Next Chapter if you get on its wavelength, which is kind of like white, upper middle class catnip for a certain type of viewer of a certain age and tax bracket, neither of which I belong to. If there’s on thing I absolutely can’t knock a film for being, it’s being a good time. This is the type of film that demands to be viewed with a crowd, or at least at home amongst friends. The audience I watched this with exuded good will, and without them, all I would’ve watched is a very mid-tier ensemble comedy sequel with only a handful of real laughs.

I had seen the previous Book Club film, but in the years since it came out, I retained none of it outside of what actors were in it. Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen all return as a close knit band of friends who’ve known each other for fifty years. Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, and Don Johnson also return as the partners of Keaton, Steenburgen, and Fonda, respectively, but I honestly forgot they were even in the first movie. Remembering the previous film isn’t necessary in the slightest to watch Book Club: The Next Chapter.

After making it through the worst of the pandemic, Diane (Keaton), Vivian (Fonda), Sharon (Bergen), and Carol (Steenburgen) are excited to be hanging out in person again. To celebrate, Carol suggests they all take a trip across the pond to Italy, to make up for a trip they had to cancel decades earlier due to her pregnancy. Their plan is to turn the trip into a bachelorette party for commitment-averse Vivian, who’s about to get hitched to Arthur (Johnson). 

And that’s really all you need to know about Book Club: The Next Chapter. They go to Rome, then Venice, then Tuscany. They gossip, reflect, and bond over their differences and shared experiences. They make a couple of allusions to how they’re all supposed to be reading Paulo Coleho’s seminal work The Alchemist, but that’s really the only thing that makes them seem at all like a book club. There are set backs, flirtations, lucky breaks, running gags, conveniences, and misunderstandings. Sometimes hilarity ensues. Sometimes there are heartfelt revelations and hard, loving truths.

Book Club: The Next Chapter is basic in every sense of the word. Basic jokes, basic plotting, basic twists, basic characters, basic charm, you name it and it’s basic. If it weren’t for the picturesque locations and high wattage star power on display, returning writer-director Bill Holderman wouldn’t have much to shoot. Every character gets their own subplot of sorts, all of them fairly predictable. Diane is still getting over the death of her husband and is unsure if she wants to get married again to her current beau, Mitchell (Garcia). Sharon is retired and living her best life, hooking up with a hottie retired professor (Hugh Quarshie) and having comical run ins with a local police chief (Giancarlo Giannini). Carol is concerned with leaving her husband (Nelson) behind after he had a heart-attack, and she also runs into an old flame (Vincent Riotta) while in Venice. And naturally Vivian wonders if she’s being true to herself by getting married in the first place.

Everything works out exactly as expected, right down to the obviously telegraphed twists that will only shock those who have a couple of merlots in them already. It’s a film for the 55 and up crowd who want to experience the good life and see the sights through the eyes of performers who defined a generation. It’s slightly naughty (with a few f-bombs and innuendos being as edgy as this thing gets), but mostly wholesome. Like its predecessor and the similarly themed 80 for Brady from earlier this year (which shares Fonda as a common link), Book Club: The Next Chapter doesn’t have much on its mind, but it does make the most of its cast.

Fonda has a natural talent for facial expressions, Steenburgen is eminently likeable and relatable, Bergen’s comedic chops are as sharp as they’ve ever been, and Keaton’s screen presence remains unique. You know an ensemble is stacked when Diane Keaton is the weakest link of the bunch, and she still hasn’t lost a step. Their natural camaraderie keeps Book Club: The Next Chapter easy to watch. They’re so laid back around each other that even the hackiest of dialogue from Holderman still credibly sounds like a bunch of friends goofing around and gently roasting each other with jokes.

And while it isn’t high art, I wouldn’t exactly say Book Club: The Next Chapter is a waste of talent. The casting is more of a means to an end; a way of making low aiming material into something with a veneer of respectability and prestige. For some, the relentlessly privileged nature of Book Club: The Next Chapter will sound downright poisonous. For its intended audience, it will likely be lapped up like pure, uncut Italian wedding soup for the soul served straight from a buffet table. It’s not good, but it can give off a homey feeling.

Book Club: The Next Chapter opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, May 12, 2023.

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