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 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.