Book club jumps on the 50 shades bandwagon

by Alen McMahon
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The results are in from the blockbuster beancounters – Solo: A Star Wars Story is now officially the first flop in the previous unassailable Star Wars series, with its chances of recovering sailing away faster than the Millennium Falcon on The Kessel Run.

Whether or not you’re familiar enough with Star Wars lore to get that last reference, lor blimey, Solo hasn’t had a stellar run so far, with its box office returns – domestically, at least – plunging by about 65% in its second week, according to some reports.

Not even Chewie’s piloting skills can pull Solo out of that dismal dive, as its takings tumble.
Is this a sign of franchise fatigue? Well, yes and no, if you consider that, at heart, its makers ignored the psychology of iconic characters: nobody, and I mean nobody, was asking for a film to be made about the legendary character’s origins.

That’s because any such origins story could only destroy the mythos behind the man, and man oh man, that’s clearly what’s happened here.

It’s a fate that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom looks set to easily dodge, as that’s a film which can develop the franchise down new lines, with an injection of fresh blood proving successful in keeping that particular blockbuster beast alive and well enough.

However, as the latest Jurassic sequel releases at an awkward release date – at least for this reviewer to get it in this week – let’s stick with the theme of hit and miss franchises, and pick up Book Club (Cert 15A, 104 mins), which attempts to flesh out the impact of (heavy sigh) the 50 Shades phenomenon.

Take four glamorous granny-types in a small but tightly knit book club, who undergo an awakening as they plunge into erotic 50 Shades misadventures, and decide they’d like the time of their lives too – if only they could whip up some interest from a variety of silver-haired hunks…

Already that wafer-thin plot has surpassed any of the 50 Shades films – achievement unlocked – but wait, there’s more.
The characters tick a variety of standard tropes (The Widow, The Divorced One, The One With The Dull Marriage, etc) while the male characters are just about as similarly shallo- sorry, accessible (The Nice Guy, The Frustrated Husband, etc).

Perhaps it’s unfair to expect anything or anyone connected to 50 Shades to have some depth, even in what amounts to a spin-off ancillary film like this, but it’s a resolutely safe film that mines its core plot – older women seeking fun, love and passion again – for predictable enough laughs and drama.

There’s nothing wrong with wandering down the 50 Shades of Extra-Grey road, as older women’s lives and passions certainly deserve more exploration and recognition, with little comparable cinema offerings between this and the likes of, say, Shirley Valentine, and that came out absolute eons ago.

However, Book Club just doesn’t ring true to such potentially interesting film fare. Bluntly, these glamorous grannies from a world of giant, sunlit kitchens don’t exactly look like the old girls over at Moore Street.

Fonda and Keaton et al are absolutely slathered in what must be the year’s most complimentary lighting, cinematography and luxury stylings, so that they’re all ‘Hollywood Old’, rather than just old.

These kind of aspirational dramedies are never going to be presented in a realistic fashion, and Book Club’s moderate takings at the box office so far would perhaps be lower if the film wasn’t largely filmed and presented like an extra-long, extra-lovely make-up ad for older women (Fonda’s home turf, in recent years).

Still, with an audience share broadly reported at averaging around 90% females, so far, director Bill Holderman knows exactly who his target viewers are: Hall Der Women, if you will.
As such, despite arriving noticeably late to cash in on the 50 Shades films’ blockbuster success, Book Club is a passable enough way to while away a couple of hours.

Its ageing stars may be considered creatures from bygone eras by many of those looking to see Jurassic creatures, but this competent Book Club at least offers a diversion from dinosaurs.
Verdict: 5/10

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