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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



Book Club, Review: Life begins at sexty

Book Club, Review: Life begins at sexty

With a combined age of 563 and an average age of 70.4, there’s no way these eight fuddy-duddies are going to do a Fifty Shades of Grey. Well, they did set out to go along that road, but never mind—how about ‘hundred hues of shocking pink’? Just for the record, Fifty Shades of Grey is a 2015 American erotic drama film, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, with a screenplay by Kelly Marcel. It was banned in India, for its explicit sex scenes. Two more Grey films have since been made. Though Book Club is inspired by its Grey predecessors, on the censorship front, there is just that likelihood that it might be restricted to audiences... above 60 years of age.

Four successful women in their sixties--Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen)--each have something in her life that she needs to set right. Vivian is a wealthy hotel magnate who has been ignoring love for most of her life, settling instead for flings. Sharon (Candice Bergen), a Supreme Court justice, still hasn’t gotten over her divorce and hates the fact that her ex-husband is dating a woman young enough to be his (grand?) daughter. Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is married, but her husband shows no interest in her. Diane (Diane Keaton) is a widow whose grown daughters treat her like a child.

Having read the book Wild the month before, but feeling unable to relate to it, Vivian decides to introduce the other three women to Christian Grey--the handsome title character of the bestselling novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. The other women protest her choice at first, but soon each one is captivated by the story. But who are these women of sextance?

Diane (Diane Keaton) is recently widowed, after 40 years of marriage and has two daughters. Vivian (Jane Fonda) is a hotelier, single and enjoys her men, with no strings attached, although there is a man from her past who is about to make a re-entry. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a judge, still working through her decades-old divorce, while her husband and son are about to throw a double bill engagement party. Carol (Mary Steenburgen)’s marriage is in a slump after 35 years, with her husband becoming grumpy and disinterested in sex while fascinated by his antique motorcycle. The lives of these four lifelong friends are turned upside down after reading the book, which catapults them into a series of outrageous life choices. Viewing it as a wake-up call, they decide to ‘expand’ their lives and chase pleasures that have eluded them. And guess what? They have the Internet and Viagra as tools of the trade. Neither option was available 50 years ago.

The film is written by the team Bill Holderman and Erin Simms, who have also produced the film. Bill Holderman makes his directorial debut. How the film got to be made makes interesting reading, so here. The creative duo first met at Robert Redford’s Wildwood Enterprises, where Holderman served as Redford’s long-time producing partner, and former actress Simms worked her way up from Redford’s assistant to developing and producing for the indie circuit. Discovering that they shared a similar work ethic and love for the feel-good movies of yesteryear, the pair set about making a film that was, yes, initially inspired by a weird Mother’s Day present.

By Mother’s Day 2012, James’ Grey books were selling like hot-cakes, and Holderman was convinced they’d make a good gift for his free-wheeling mother. Erin saw him doing this, and, at first, thought he was completely insane. Simms ended up sending a copy each to her own mother and stepmother. That kick-started a conversation between the pair, one about “our moms, and all their different perspectives on the age that they are and dating and attitudes,” Simms said. “The next day we had the idea for the movie.”

Please don’t try this at home. Not in an Indian home, unless...well, if it is ‘what the doctor ordered’ for your mother or stepmother, who am I to give you a statutory warning?  

Holderman and Simm keep the timeline current and do not provide any back-story visually. The sexual encounters that each of them get into are as diverse as can be, and therefore interesting. Ranging from what should one of them wear on a date, to the clumsy copulation in a car, to inappropriate and excessive use of sidenafil citrate (generic name of what most persons know as Viagra) to one of them saying she is reading Moby Dick when she is found digging into Fifty Shades of Grey...things keep rolling. Also interesting is the choice of professions for the characters in the story. It’s a feel good film alright, but the feeling does not percolate down to the viewer. A few smiles, half-a-dozen chuckles, and the film is over.

Diane Keaton (Play it Again Sam, The Godfather, Father of the Bride, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Unstrung Heroes-director) gets a good opportunity to put those serious stuff behind her. And she is named Diane! Fitness diva Jane Fonda (Klute, Coming Home, On Golden Pond) is Vivian, lithe and svelte, and brimming with confidence. It takes some believing that she is the oldest member of the cast, at 80. Mary Steenburge (Ragtime, Back to the Future III, Dean), the plainest Jane of the quartet, is Carol, apt as the homely one, driven towards acquiring a booster dose for her hubby and enticing him into a dance contest. Completing the square is Candice Bergen (Starting Over, Gandhi, Sex and the City), as Sharon, the buxom and curvaceous judge, always in charge, till the funny bits set in. She and Carol have the most hilarious scenes that they pull off with aplomb.

Andy Garcia (born Andrés Arturo García Menéndez in Havana, Cuba; Godfather III, Ocean’s Eleven, Pink Panther) as Mitchell, provides a surprise twist and his eyes flow with the discovery of a soul-mate, and his rugged features add that edge to his features. Craig T. Nelson (The Killing Fields, The Osterman Weekend, Poltergeist) plays Bruce and carries off the exaggerated Viagra episode with bumbling grace. Don Johnson plays Arthur, (Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star, Django Unchained, Cold in July), a man who started as a DJ and soon became the owner of a radio station chain, which he has now sold, and is in hot pursuit of the judge. Her ex husband Tom (Ed Begley Jr.; at 68 going on 69, he is entitled to add the Jr. suffix), in the meanwhile, is planning to marry a girl one-third his age, in a double-bill engagement ceremony where their son is getting engaged too. It’s a small role, but full of bubbly life.

Online dating takes Sharon to George, enacted by Richard Dreyfuss (American Graffiti, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, The Goodbye Girl), a man full of love and serious about his new liaison. Alicia Silverstone (the Crush, Batman and Robin, Clueless) is seen as Keeton’s daughter, while Katie Aselton plays her sibling. There are some real slice-of-life scenes between the mother and daughters. Also in the cast are Wallace Shawn as Derek, Tommy Dewey as Scott and Mircea Monroe as Cheryl.

Two major factors obstruct the vibes that could reach a wider audience: firstly, the age and age-related issues factor that is hardly likely to jell with audiences below 35 and secondly, there are too many characters to follow in the 104 minutes that we have to finish reading the Book Club. If you are an age agnostic man/woman and/or a gender agnostic man, the movie is worth an outing. Rated ‘R’ for ‘recommended to those above 45, when accompanied by someone who is above 60’.

Rating: ** ½


The Fifty Shades of Grey books are based on the series that began in 2011, with a novel of the same name by British author E. L. James. That is the pen-name of Erika Mitchell Leonard, who is now 55. She wrote the bestselling erotic romance trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed, along with the companion novels Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian, and Darker: Fifty Shades Darker as Told by Christian; under the name Snowqueen's Icedragon.

The combined novels have sold over 125 million copies worldwide, over 35 million copies in the United States, and set the record in the United Kingdom as the fastest selling paperback of all time. In 2012, Time magazine named her one of The World's 100 Most Influential People. The novels were subsequently adapted into the films: Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed. Just for the record, Book Club, the present movie, has no connection with The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe.

Coming up: Solo, a Star Wars Story



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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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