Book Club: The Next Chapter - While not perfect, it is still an improvement on the first
3 out of 5
Sequels can be tricky. There are few things worse in cinema than a follow-up to a film you loved falling over. However, this is not the case for me because I was not that impressed with the original Book Club. This means it is a case of seeing if the second swing at the ball can hit.
So to set the scene, the members of the book club Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen), and Carol (Mary Steenburgen), were going well until they had to shelter in place due to Covid, but that is only going to last a week. Many, many months of Zoom calls later, the women finally meet up for their next in-person book club, but Vivian has a surprise, an engagement ring. The shock and surprise were strong, but after that passed, there was an opportunity. Because back in the day, the four of them wanted to go on a holiday in Italy, and well, a bachelorette party is a fantastic excuse to fix a past wrong - isn't it?
The film’s first change is changing the book, which is the inspiration for people’s motivations, shifting things from Fifty Shades of Grey to The Architect. This change fundamentally helps the film because it stops the movie from being bogged down in a particular direction that dates the production. It also allows more space for the characters to explore their motivations. The four book club members work exceptionally well with each other with some fantastic banter and some of the classist smut jokes I have seen in a film. If you want classy smut, make your jokes in an antique museum!
Another strength is moving the action to Italy, and it looks like most of it was filmed on location, with only one or two green screen moments. I think we are at a point where flying off to an exotic place feels like something to aspire to again. It also allows for more than a few shenanigans and cross-cultural snafus, which is the perfect place for the entertaining introduction of Giancarlo Giannini to the production.
The driving force of Book Club: The Next Chapter is of course its relationships. Vivian, Diane, Carol, and Sharon’s friendship takes center stage as they embrace their new experiences across Italy. The four have great chemistry, and it’s easy to believe they’ve been friends for decades. Whether they’re hyping each other up while trying on designer clothes or offering some much-needed “tough love” advice, watching them will make you smile and reflect on the most important friendships in your own life.
Though the friendship between the core four leads the story, The Next Chapter is also about romance, with each of the four women exploring and expanding their relationships with the men in their lives throughout the course of the film. Sharon, the single lady of the group, gets to be romanced by strangers. Carol encounters an old flame, while simultaneously worrying about losing her husband. Vivian and Diane, both in committed relationships, bring differing views about marriage that weave together to sway the film’s conclusion.
The result is a story that reminds us no matter where we are in life, the people we care about most will ground us and bring us together.While I think this is a big leap forward compared to the first film, it does have a problem, and that is the third act. While there are still a few good jokes and moments, the film loses all narrative momentum when they leave Venice. It felt like they had written themselves into a corner, and this was the least bad option. This might be true, but it did make the entire third act feel like a drag.
In the end, do I recommend Book Club: The Next Chapter? I do think it is an improvement on the first film, even if the ending was flat. As well as that, I can tell you that the target audience for the film very much enjoyed the film and the screening I was at.