I was only a young, doe-eyed theater worker when Book Club was released in 2018, but it dominated my small community cinema. I myself saw it later in its run, and although my developing sense of film criticism appreciated its cheesy charm, I could not stop asking myself “how did this make over $100 million?!”
The (debatably) long-awaited sequel Book Club: The Next Chapter mostly abandons the titular element, instead taking the central ladies out of their comfortable homes and flying them to Italy, jumping from one unexpected adventure to the next. Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen all make a triumphant return (and no, even though it might seem like it, this is not the same crew from 80 for Brady — at least not entirely) as seniors seeking a new lease on life. And since this is a feel-good comedy, that’s exactly what they find across the pond.
I have to admire the consistency between The Next Chapter and its predecessor; character arcs, or as close as these movies come, carry over, with romance threads picked up and carried to the finish line, culminating in a satisfying ending for all those involved. Supporting actors Craig T. Nelson (The Incredibles), Don Johnson (Knives Out) and Andy García (The Untouchables) all return, lending their good humor to pad the runtime. But the ladies are the true stars; their one-liners and rapid conversations make up for ninety percent of the film, because let’s be honest, if you go to see this movie, that’s exactly what you’re there for.
You don’t need to have seen 2018’s Book Club to enjoy The Next Chapter; in fact, the best way to enjoy The Next Chapter may be to not watch it at all. It’s fluffy friendship comfort food at best. There’s not much substance to sustain the runtime, and a hastily thrown-together climax makes a mockery of the so-called “character work” done so far. I hold true to my theory that this movie was conceived only because the four leading ladies enjoy hanging out with each other, and wanted an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy. What better way to do that than to make a movie, which consists nearly entirely of the banter they undoubtedly exchange on a daily basis?
And yet, I would go so far as to say I had a good time. These actresses have been in the biz for a long time, and each of them knows how to command your attention and deliver a line in just the right way. It’s superficial, but I’m not complaining.
Book Club: The Next Chapter is playing now in theaters.