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Reviews for May 18th, 2018

Book Club

Directed by Bill Holderman

      Four friends, Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen), deal a variety of issues after reading Fifty Shades of Grey as part of their book club. Diane copes with become a widow and develops a romance with a pilot, Mitchell (Andy Garcia), who has his own plane. She also has to decide whether or not she wants to move into the basement of one of her daughters. Carol is stuck in a sex marriage; her husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), seems to care more about fixing his motorcycle than in having sex with her. On the other hand, Vivian, the owner of a hotel, has had plenty of sex, but hasn't settled down with anyone yet. That might change when she meets Arthur (Don Johnson). Sharon, a judge, hasn't dated anyone since getting divorced nearly 2 decades ago. Her ex-husband, Tom (Ed Begley Jr.), is about to marry a much younger woman. Her friends persuade her to place an ad on a dating site, and ends up finding 2 dating prospects, George (Richard Dreyfuss) and Derek (Wallace Shawn).

      Book Club is the perfect antidote to summer's blockbusters because there are no explosions, car chases, gun fights nor any archenemies to be found. It's fundamentally about human beings undergoing a coming-of-age during their golden years. Their battles are emotional and psychological rather than physical; fight with words instead of with guns or knives. Writer/director Bill Holderman and co-writer Erin Simms do a great job of introducing Diane, Vivian, Sharon and Carol within the first 10 minutes so that you can easily grasp what they're struggling with, their unique personalities, and their strong bond of friendship as well as their rapport. The kind of humor found in Book Club is the rare kind because it doesn't go for lowbrow, gross-out, bottom-of-the-barrel humor. There are no vomit jokes (I'm looking at you, Blockers!), poop jokes (I'm looking at you, Bridesmaid!) or peeing jokes (I'm looking at you, Girls Trip!). You'll find plenty of wit, quips and innuendos with a dash of slapstick and screwball comedy.

      Admittedly, though, there's a cheap Viagra joke that goes on for too long, but it begins with a hilarious scene where a police officer pulls Carol and Bruce over while he's under the influence of Viagra. That scene almost rivals a certain laugh-out-loud scene in Parenthood a wife (also played by Mary Steenburgen) and husband (Steve Martin) get into a car crash while she goes down on him. Unlike most modern romantic comedies, though, Book Club, is the kind of romcom that actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood, i.e. Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Barbara Stanwyck, Zasu Pitts, Doris Day, among others, would've probably been very happy to star in. Jane Fonda, Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen and Diane Keaton are all well-cast, though, and provide plenty of charisma onscreen. They give marvelous performances. Seeing them together in this is a pleasure to behold and makes the film irresistibly entertaining.

      If you look beneath Book Club's comedy and lightheartedness, you will find a beating heart and some kernels of wisdom. Fortunately, the screenplay never becomes preachy, although it does have a few moments of corn straight from the cob, but those are forgivable flaws. Comedy, after all, is rooted in tragedy, so it makes sense that each of the four friends has something that they're struggling with. They're human beings, after all. Even though they're grown-ups, that doesn't mean that they don't have more growing up to do or lessons to learn. The third act feels like a fairy tale that's slightly contrived and pat, though, i.e. a brief scene with Diane standing up to her daughters doesn't involve them having an actual conversation. However, not every film has to have 100% realism. There are different degrees of realism, and audiences are allowed to suspend their disbelief every once in a while as long as they don't have to check their heart, mind or soul at the door. At a running of 104 minutes, Book Club is a feel-great romantic comedy that will warm your heart. It's the rare funny, charming and delightful Hollywood film that baby boomers can just sit back, relax and enjoy with a group of friends and some chardonnay. It's a warm, wise and wonderful film that would make for an interesting double feature with Shirley Valentine, Year By the Sea, Finding Your Feet, Parenthood, and Moscow, Belgium.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Paramount Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

First Reformed

Directed by Paul Schrader


Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by A24.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC/Loews Lincoln Square.

On Chesil Beach

Directed by Dominic Cooke

      Two young lovers, Florence Ponting (Saoirse Ronan) and Edward Mayhew (Billy Howle) get married during the summer of 1962. They both come from very different families. Her parents, Violet (Emily Watson)) and Geoffrey (Samuel West), are upper class; his parents, Marjorie (Anne-Marie Duff) and Lionel (Adrian Scarborough), are from the lower, working class. On their wedding night, their marriage gets put to the test when they struggle to make love for the first time in a hotel room.

      On Chesil Beach, based on screenwriter Ian McEwan's novel, sounds like it could be a sweeping, endearing romantic drama. In execution, though, it's a mostly lethargic, sappy and clunky film with not enough chemistry between the leads. McEwan tells Florence and Edward's love story by using flashbacks, a narrative device that can work if it's woven into the screenplay organically. In the case of On Chesil Beach, though, the flashbacks take away the dramatic momentum and they're used too frequently. Perhaps it might've been more effective to tell the story in a linear fashion. Bookending the film with Florence and Edward having an argument on the beach feels a bit tacky, although it does allow for some breathtaking, picturesque scenery. The cinematography often looks exquisite and provides the film with a cinematic quality and scope. The great costume design also helps to it. If only the romance between Florence and Edward were palpable enough to be breathtaking and enriching, this would've been a much more emotionally engrossing.

      Saoirse Ronan does her best to rise above the dull screenplay with her moving performance, but it doesn't quite compensate per se. She was much more radiant, though, in the far better written and poignant romantic period piece, Brooklyn. On Chesil Beach, at a running time of 110 minutes, tends to drag, especially toward the end. Even though the film tries to milk your tear ducts, it leaves you feeling mostly cold and underwhelmed by the time the end credits roll. At least it's not cringe-inducing nor as sappy as a Nicholas Sparks movie, but it comes pretty close.

Number of times I checked my watch: 5
Released by Bleecker Street.
Opens at Angelika Film Center and AMC Loews Lincoln Square.