“BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER”
Starring Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenbergen, Diane Keaton
Written by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms
Directed by Bill Holderman
Produced by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms

By Matt Neufeld
May 12, 2023

The dreadful, drearily disappointing dud “Book Club: The Next Chapter”–just the latest prime example of yet another movie that absolutely, positively did not have to be there–proves–yet again–that even if a movie has a lavish overall budget, has a lavish fancy expensive foreign travel and shoot budget, has the signed commitment of four veteran actors and has the distribution backing of a major studio, that doesn’t necessarily mean that movie is going to succeed on any filmic level.

And, lawdy mamma, does “Book Club: The Next Chapter” completely, horrendously fail to succeed on every filmic level–writing, directing, production and, yes, acting.

Production-wise, even though the filmmakers shot scenes in Rome, Venice and Tuscany, they somehow amazingly failed to capitalize on these respective regions’ natural beauty, charm and atmosphere. The cinematography, camera shots and angles, lighting, color schemes and attendant art design, production design and set design somehow render everything completely bland, over-lit, dry and movie-set-fake. There’s no exotic or wondrous or adventurous mood or atmosphere, ever. How anyone can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, shoot in some of the most beautiful areas of Italy and end up with boring shots, scenes, angles, lighting, camera work and lighting is just unbelievable. You can find better shots of Rome, Venice and Tuscany on those old dusty post cards found in that old box sitting there in the back of your attic.

Directing-wise, it’s just startling how dead, flat, boring, by-the-numbers, routine, uninventive, unoriginal, cliched, tired, corny and schmaltzy the directing is–and any other similar descriptive words you can find from Roget. Director Bill Holderman, who also somehow directed 2018’s “Book Club,” doesn’t even appear to be
trying—everything is just amateurishly flat-footed, slow-moving, stilted, unimaginative–to the point, sorry to say, it all ends up just embarrassing for everyone involved.

The script, dialogue, story, plot, subplots and general writing are also amazingly tired, cliched, corny, overly-familiar, flat-out bad, un-dramatic, un-funny, un-interesting and wholly devoid of character, plot or story development; tension; suspense; wonder; insight; perception; conflict; drama; tragedy; comedy; intelligence; or any other basic element of storytelling. Jokes and gags fall flat, not only because they’re not funny, but because they are jokes and gags that were tired and cliched about 1852 or thereabouts. Attempts at drama or conflict or tension never build to anything resembling real drama, conflict or tension, and it seems that anything that might resemble a real story plot point that could actually become something is immediately cut off, stopped and then oddly, weirdly resolved with either an uncomfortable fake hug, a line that seems to come from one of those crappy self-help books, a line that seems to be lifted from one of those crappy inspirational quotation books, a line that seems to be lifted from one of those crappy episodes of the horrorshow nightmare world of daytime television talk shows, a glass of wine, an over-priced meal in some over-priced restaurant, or one of those dry, stale, outdated and un-funny dumb jokes or gags.

And it’s just bizarro how the talents of veteran actors Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenbergen and Diane Keaton are just wasted in this movie. You know a movie is bad when Fonda, 85; Bergen, 77; Keaton, 77; and Steenbergen, 70, can’t even channel, project and energize their very real, still-present, varied and talented comedic and dramatic chops and overcome the lousy script, scenes, shots and directing they’re handed on a not-so-silver-platter. For some reason, none of the four actors are ever allowed to really break out, break down, stand up and deliver anything truly resembling true drama and comedy in this total flop of a movie. Crazily, even a literal handful–as in, four or five–of jokes and gags that maybe possibly might have worked–maybe, possibly, might have–are strangely casually just tossed aside, thrown aside, as if Holderman was afraid that they might actually work and might actually make someone laugh. This sounds bizarre, but this is what happens, several times, and it’s all, again, simply the overall, collective result of sub-standard, cliched and tired directing, writing and acting.

The movie somehow also bizarrely completely fails to capitalize in any conceivable way on the talents and skills of supporting actors Andy Garcia, 57; Don Johnson, 73; and Craig T. Nelson, 79. The roles, lines and scenes with Garcia, Johnson and Nelson land with the same embarrassing thuds and crashes as, alas, the scenes with Fonda, Bergen, Keaton and Steenbergen. Again, repeatedly, there’s just nothing there.

This movie even dares–dares, I tell you!–to start with that same scene that you and I and everyone on the planet have now seen, endured and suffered through so many times now, we’re seeing this sane cliched, tired scene in, yes, cliches be damned, our very worst nightmares, and daymares: A bunch of people texting, talking, messaging, commenting, chatting, devolving, being idiotic, being stupid, voice-commanding, video conferencing and online-meeting via cellphones, texting functions, social media, the internets, websites, computers, laptops, voice-activation search devices and other over-priced, over-rated, unneeded, moronic and idiotic electronic digital devices. Note to every film, television, theater and book writer, producer, director and actor on the planet Earth: These cliched, unfunny and tired computer-oriented scenes were already cliched, unfunny and tired about twenty years ago, already. And the whole cliched, unfunny and tired online video meeting thing was cliched, unfunny and tired about a month into the entirely unfunny covid pandemic, and that was three years ago, already. We just don’t need to see any more scenes with any of these things in any other movie in any scene for any reason for at least the next decade or two or three. Here’s a novel idea: Just simply show real people talking live and in person in some type of intelligent manner about intelligent subjects and issues that truly matter to the world. That usually works. And even if it doesn’t work, at least we can see that two live, breathing human beings are talking with each other in the way that they are supposed to be talking with each other: live, in person, face to face, eye to eye, person to person.

Story–what’s the story, you say, of “Book Club: The Next Chapter?” The story is as threadbare as the movie: Four longtime, upper-class, silver-spoon gilded friends of a certain age decide to spend some of their respective piles of money and go to Italy to celebrate one of the group’s upcoming wedding. Those are the characters portrayed by Fonda, Bergen, Keaton and Steenbergen. They go to Italy, and, really, not much happens. The one plot contrivance that attempts–attempts, mind you–to make something happen is indeed so contrived, it’s not even believable or interesting. And, believe it or not, this movie stumbles and bumbles to a final act that completely, entirely deflates, punctures and rips apart the entire foundation of everything that occurred before those final scenes. Believe it or not. I kid you not.

Fonda, Bergen, Keaton, Steenbergen, Garcia, Johnson and Nelson deserve something, anything, better than this embarrassing, muddled, mind-numbing mess.

For your mental and filmic health, don’t attend this book club’s next chapter. It’s time for this particular book club to stop meeting and to look for other activities to occupy their time.

Thankfully, the most excellent “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” is enjoying a healthy blockbuster extended ride at movie theaters, and that should be everyone’s next moviegoing destination.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.