Book Club’s Next Chapter a Picturesque Italian Travelogue
I’ll give Book Club: The Next Chapter this: There are moments where the sequel comes close to matching the energetic fun its quartet of iconic actresses — Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen — appear to have had making it while traipsing around Italy after the COVID lockdown. It’s perfectly agreeable matinee fodder, and a meal that fans of the successful 2018 film are almost certain to greedily gobble up and then happily ask for more.
But it is incredibly slight, even more so than Fonda’s superstar female–led comedy from earlier this year, 80 for Brady. The script by returning director Bill Holderman (A Walk in the Woods), once again co-written with Erin Simms, feels more like an excuse to take the cast and crew on a vacation to Italy more than anything else. The actual plot — eternally single Vivian (Fonda) is getting married, and her best pals Diane (Keaton), Sharon (Bergen), and Carol (Steenburgen) see this as a sign to head to Rome, Venice, and all points in between to celebrate — is undeniably minimalist, and nothing caught me even moderately by surprise.
Yet, as gorgeously shot travelogues go, there’s plenty to like, and cinematographer Andrew Dunn (Downton Abbey: A New Era) is at the top of his game. Holderman utilizes Italian locations both familiar and novel nicely, and at a sprightly paced 107 minutes, the sequel does not overstay its welcome. All four actresses are in fine form, Steenburgen and Bergen in particular, the latter generating hearty laughs with such effortlessness that the overall effect whenever she’s on-screen borders on magical.
Don Johnson, Craig T. Nelson, and a sublime Andy Garcia are all back for seconds, but, other than Garcia, they don’t have a heck of a lot to do. Additional men added to the mix include a ravishingly sexy Hugh Quarshie, veteran character actor Vincent Riotta, and a woefully underutilized Giancarlo Giannini. The four ladies also pay a quick stop at an haute couture bridal store for ten minutes of goofy dress-up, with Keaton ending up in a black-and-white outfit so suited to her, it would not surprise me at all if costume designer Stefano De Nardis (Morgan) pulled it out of the actor’s closet instead of crafting something original.
The high point of the sequel involves Quarshie and Riotta. The women end up at a dinner party put on by the former, with a menu composed by the latter. This is where Steenburgen and Bergen get to truly cut things loose. The ease with which they generate connections with the actor they’re paired with — Bergen with Quarshie, Steenburgen with Riotta — is positively glorious. All four make even the most insipid snippets of dialogue seem almost inspired, and there were moments during this brief impromptu sojourn when I was giggling so hard, I had to wipe away a handful of tears.
There’s not much more to add. Much like the first film, Book Club: The Next Chapter is another easygoing lark that does zero that’s unexpected yet still generates just enough genuine laughter to make its sitcom-level simplicity bearable. Keaton, Fonda, Bergen, and Steenburgen all shine, and as simple as the film is, I can’t say anything particularly negative about it. This sequel’s heart is in the right place, making it a picturesque jaunt from one end of Italy to the other, one worth finding a seat on the tour bus and joining.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)