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Book Club

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Book Club

Odds are about 50/50 as to whether the public will like or not like Book Club. Four strong, independent women have enjoyed becoming a book club together. When the selections become too boring for Vivian (Jane Fonda), she suggests they read 50 Shades of Gray which they do with a combination of reluctance and interest that moves them back into being interested in the dating world.

The fun of it is watching four actresses we have enjoyed in movies for years and seeing them again in their 70s. The not so fun part is that directors Bill Holderman and Erin Simms have pretended that when a woman that age returns to the dating game, she becomes a giddy teenager. Thinking of a judge (Candice Bergen), a successful founder of a luxury hotel (Jane Fonda), a strong, independent wife (Mary Steenburgen), and the fluttery widow (Diane Keaton) as reinventing themselves as mindless dates is wacky.

That probably wouldn’t be true if the writers hadn’t planted the whole story in a culture resembling the 1950s. But they did. Result? These smart, fine actors look silly most of the time as they meet new men or reunite with old ones. Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen manage to hold on to their professional dignity and win our support while Jane Fonda seems just silly as the successful rich hotel owner who sleeps around town with whoever catches her eye.

As much as we may love Diane Keaton – and who doesn’t? – the role of a widow convincing her children she is not moving west for them to take care of her is a long, drawn out ordeal without much charm. Our good old pal falls into the trap of playing her silly younger self as opposed to the woman she now is.

Judge Candice Bergen plays her age well, reluctant to join in her friends’ newly devised dating game. She holds her dignity as she wonders whether to reenter the man/woman culture. It is Mary Steenburgen who carries the movie. As she tries to reignite life with her dour husband (Craig T. Nelson) she remains an adult while her friends suddenly seem like teenagers. And when she breaks into a superb dance routine she shows that the good life at 70 doesn’t have to mean reverting to childhood. She pulls smiles and even a tear from the audience.

Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Richard Dreyfuss, and Don Johnson are fine because they act their age as they fall for these women. Not one of them becomes childish. Result? We like all of them. Why do women have to become silly at seventy? It would have worked if they had approached the guys with their adult selves.

Question: how old are the writers of the script? Too young, I suspect, to understand that after writing strong contemporary scenes for these fine women, they then dropped them into the rather inane culture they had inhabited fifty years earlier.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Book Club
Word Count : 496
Running Time : 1:44
Rating : PG-13
Date : May 20, 2018

This review was posted on May 21, 2018, in Comedy.

The Leisure Seeker

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

The Leisure Seeker

Watching Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland create a movie called The Leisure Seeker was a positive prospect. Advance word promised they would travel from their home in Wellesley, MA to Key West on her promise to bring her husband at last to see the home of his hero, Ernest Hemingway.

Mirren and Sutherland. Each is known for making roles jump alive and they try hard here. Why then, does it fall flat? That’s not an easy question because it’s wholesome fun watching them drive south in their old-fashioned Winnebago motor home that bears the name Leisure Seeker. This American road trip is done well – campgrounds, casual conversations with strangers, small bonfires, and finally the stretch across the magnificent highway that soars over the water from Florida to Key West. That suspended road carries drivers not just across the multiple miles of water but through another emotional world that belongs only to the driver at the wheel. With no distractions, we have left the earth and travel mile after mile as if suspended from any world we know.

So, what’s the problem? Think of how ignorant we Americans often look when we root our stories in a foreign culture. The Italian director has done that here. Just before the couple heads south, we watch a Trump rally in Wellesley, one of the most liberal towns in America and one of the least likely to celebrate Trumpian beliefs. Later on, we watch Ella storm into an old age home armed with a shot gun as she demands to see an old boyfriend from years ago. Those scenes aren’t just out of place; they’re just plain silly.

But then we return to watching two fine actors chat with both affection and annoyance as they travel the country one last time. We watch Ella (Hellen Mirren) and John (Donald Sutherland) interact with love and loyalty sprinkled with bouts of impatience on Ella’s part. She’s not well either, but tells no one, and husband John is thoroughly absorbed with his literary heroes. Best of all, when things are going well we watch their appreciation of being free on the road together on a beautiful adventure.

They do this while refusing to tell their two adult children where they are, knowing those grown kids would have refused to let them board the Winnebago. One more negative is the casting of these two. Their son (Christian McKay) is a gay man who comes across as an incompetent nutcase without our ever understanding why. Although their daughter (Janel Moloney) seems slightly more sane, we are happy they don’t have bigger parts. Another minor reservation: can anyone identify for me the roots of Helen Mirren’s accent?

It’s a shame the final road trip given us by two of today’s finest actors isn’t better. If you go, just enjoy their efforts and plant yourself emotionally in the Winnebago as it makes its way to that superb highway to Key West.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Film Title : The Leisure Seeker
Word Count : 501
Running Time : 1:52
Rating : R
Date : 15 April 2018