Book Club

Four smart and accomplished ladies have a friendly book club to “stimulate their minds.” But this month, frisky businesswoman Vivian (Jane Fonda) is suggesting Fifty Shades of Grey, which promises to stimulate something else. Sharon (Candice Bergen), a judge and voice of reason doubts it even qualifies as a book, but she is overruled and pretty soon they, along with Diane (Diane Keaton), recently widowed, and Carol (Mary Steenburgen), the only one who is happily married (or married at all, I suppose) are actually reading this month’s selection, which is apparently a pretty rare thing (sorry, Wild).

Fifty Shades of Grey offends me on many levels. Likely not on a prurient one. I can’t be sure though, since I’ve never read it. It offends me because it started out as porn fan fiction about Twilight, which is a book that already offends me for infantilizing MV5BMTU2MjYzMjY2MV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTYyNjM0NTM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,743_AL_literature. But fan fiction should likely stay in the darkest corners of the internet, where it belongs. Instead, easily titillated people with low standards encouraged the author to change the names and publish it as a “book,” which I avoided on principle. Ditto when the movie(s) came out, and you know there aren’t many I miss reviewing, even the stinkers.

When I first heard about this one, I loved it immediately for the terrific ensemble cast, but I was really disappointed about the subject of their book club.  I think older women, and indeed all women, should be free to explore and own their sexuality, but it’s insulting and belittling that it’s come to this. Luckily, the toxic erotica is only the jumping off point, followed by a pretty harmless rom-com. Not a great one, but thanks to fabulous leading ladies, it can’t go completely wrong can it?

And it’s sort of nice to see these ladies getting to live, getting to flirt and travel and nurture friendships, getting to be things others than mothers and grandmothers, which are wonderful things of course but not the only thing. Aging is a sin in Hollywood, and women over 40 are largely viewed by the camera’s lens as sexless. Producers routinely cast young actresses in “old” roles (ie, a 28 year old Angelina Jolie playing 27 year old Colin Farrell’s mother). The year Meryl Streep turned 40 she was offered THREE different roles for a witch. In The First Wives Club, Goldie Hawn’s character explains “There are only three ages for women in Hollywood; ‘Babe’, ‘District Attorney’, and ‘Driving Ms. Daisy.'” In real life, women continue to be interesting, complex human beings at every age, and the stories we tell should reflect that. Book Club is not the answer we really need; it feels more like an extended sitcom episode. But I won’t deny that Bergen, Keaton, Steenburgen, and Fonda are thrilling to watch; they remain magnetic as ever. If I have to put up with a “lethargic pussy” joke I will, but I will continue to hope for better next time. Like maybe a little less glaring whiteness, for starters.

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28 thoughts on “Book Club

  1. Christopher

    Fifty Shades was published in 2011 and from what I heard at the time about it prompting a lot of uncomfortable conversations between young women and their mothers (the discomfort was all on the daughters’ side) this screenplay was probably drafted at the same time and sat on a shelf because of Hollywood’s age problem.
    I’m just speculating there but it’s also depressing to me that it’s still the go-to book to represent women’s empowerment and comfort with their sexuality. After seven years the publishing industry should have come up with something better.

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  2. Liz A.

    There would have been much better books they could have picked, but I think they used 50 Shades because it made it really easy to explain the plot of the movie. It’s the only erotica fiction that is recognized by title.

    I can’t hate Twilight. I’ve never read it (and based on the movies–yeah, I get the hate), but I remember talking to a non-reading teen who became a reading teen because of those books. It was her gateway drug. We all need that one book that lets us know that there may be other books out there that we would love. And for that, I will never completely disparage Twilight (although, it is a rather ridiculous plot).

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    1. Jay Post author

      I don’t mind kids reading Twilight, or any YA. I mind adults who read Twilight. And Hunger Games. And Harry Potter. And nothing of substance.

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  3. Birgit

    When I was in a bookstore, I picked up 50 Shades of Blecchhh and perused it. It is horribly written and sets women back in my mind. I think they used this trashy book to move the plot forward. I want to see this movie but don’t expect much from it so that’s aok for me.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I love books, and even love discussing them, but I read too much and too quickly for a club. By the time we’d be meeting I’d have read 20 more and have no memory of the title at hand.

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  4. raistlin0903

    Whenever I hear talk about fifty shades of grey….I pretty much turn fift shades of red (and no, I mean the angry fifty shades of red lol 😂😂). Don’t think I will be checking this one out, as it really doesn’t sound like my kind of movie 😊

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  5. Lavanya

    Well I got all excited seeing the title of movie as book club. Then you mentioned they decided to read 50 shades. No matter how good the movie is I can’t stand hearing about that garbage called novel. Nothing against erotic novels, it’s just that this one bugs be like anything.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I just love her to bits!
      And I know what you mean – it’s contagious to be in a theatre full of people having a good time, but you do miss half the jokes while laughing at the previous ones!

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  6. Lorna Cunningham-Rushton

    Pretty much how I felt about this….at the theatre, I gave myself the treat of the reclining chair and wine in a little bottle, and settled down expecting exactly what I got. I enjoyed it while I was watching, but I remembered little other than the extended hard-on and the enviable cotton shirts worn by one of the women.

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  7. librepaley8

    Had to accompany my mother to this, against my own judgement. Oh dear. I agree with the article and some of the comments, what a waste of acting talents. Desperately need to do better for older female actors.

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  8. Katrina Morrison

    As I get older, I still need and want intelligent and honest role models on women aging. I don’t want to live my autumn years by reflecting societal views…like being sexless after 40. That’s a bunch of crap! It’s too bad this marvelous cast did not put more authenticity into it. Dang, I was so hoping it would be better.

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  9. Teena in Toronto (@TeenainToronto)

    Though it’s not my kind of book, I read the first “Fify Shades” because everyone else was. And one was enough. I had no issue with the subject matter … I thought the writing style left a lot to be desired. zzzzzzzzzzzzz

    I watched this movie this afternoon on the plane to Saskatoon. I didn’t go into it with high expectations and It was worse that I expected. Jane Fonda was creepy as an 80-year-old playing a 60-something and I found her paired up with Don Johnson just weird. And the pairing of dowdy Diane Keaton with younger sexy pilot Andy Garcia was beyond my realm of belief.

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