Book Club: The Next Chapter movie review (2023)

Like Smurfs, each character gets just one attribute. The male characters all get the same one: unconditional adoration of the fabulous creature to whom they are lucky enough to be able to devote their full time and attention because they have no other interests, wishes, obligations, or, indeed, reasons to exist except to be Perfect Boyfriend (PB). It’s a dumbed-down, glammed-up “Golden Girls.”

Once again, Jane Fonda plays the free-spirited, sex-positive hotel executive, Blanche, I mean Samantha, I mean Vivian. Her PB is Arthur (Don Johnson). Candice Bergen is the now-retired judge. Diane Keaton is the, oh, I don’t know, they just had Diane Keaton play her dithery fallback persona, the one who loves wide belts, crinolines, and polka dots. Her PB is Mitchell (Andy Garcia), the man she puts in the last movie. Mary Steenburgen is Carol. She is happily married to Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), but he is recovering from a heart attack, and she is worried and perhaps over-protective.

Oh, boy, pandemic humor! If you think that means shots of Zoom calls with people trying to understand the mute button and turn off the filter, you are right. If you think that’s fresh or funny, you might enjoy this movie. Perhaps. There are also useless pandemic-era activities like a new pet and a new musical instrument intended to be charming or funny. They are neither. The last movie’s cute elevator pitch was, “A bunch of old but sexy ladies read 50 Shades of Gray.” They jettison the concept of an actual book club this time, but apparently they all read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Instead of snickering jokes about bondage, there are woo-woo references to destiny.

Viv’s PB impulsively proposes to her, and the woman who never wanted to get married suddenly finds herself engaged. The friends decide to celebrate with a trip to Italy before the wedding. If you think this means a shot of them walking toward us in slow-motion like a cutesy version of “The Right Stuff” and the dozens, possibly hundreds, of movies that have imitated that shot ever since, you are right. If you think that’s adorable, you might enjoy this film. Perhaps.

In one of the world’s most beautiful countries with some of the world’s most legendary historic art and architecture, the women get up to all kinds of silly hijinks that could just as easily happen at home. A mis-sent photo might be misinterpreted! Oh no! They get thrown in jail. They get thrown in jail again! Same sheriff (Giancarlo Giannini, slumming)! How funny is that? Not!