The Happy Prince Review – Everett Channels Profound Empathy for Wilde in His Twilight Years

Rupert Everett’s relationship with Oscar Wilde is well-documented. He starred as Wilde in the 2012 return of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss, and displayed an affinity with his wafting witticisms in his own, rather Wilde-ly written memoir, Vanished Years. He’s also spent a decade buried deep in The Happy Prince: a project that emanates nothing if not passion, and laments the literary treasure’s exile with hot, visceral anger.

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Everett’s intensely personal tribute takes its name from Wilde’s ballad of poverty and devotion, which Everett applies like thematic sugar paper to the artist’s last years in exile in Naples and Paris. The film is laced with fragile excerpts, but hang airily over a more grotesque, dilapidated Wilde than has previously been seen. Though seemingly inspired by Ken Hughes’ The Trials of Oscar Wilde, Everett’s performance is also lovingly classical. This is a Victorian-era Pierrot, as much a figure of comic honesty as tragic loss. Earlier scenes depict an absinthe-bleary Wilde slurring music hall ballads to an affectionate Parisian crowd, later playfully appreciating the rear of a nearby waiter while lunching in Naples.

But through this clownish innocence comes a stark criticism of the conditions Wilde endured. Flashbacks interject the riotous comedy with the standing ovations that once greeted his beloved plays, realising the disparaging caricature to which the writer has been reduced. Still more heart-breaking: its performance appears his only reprieve.

The fear underpinning Stephen Fry’s starched-collar portrayal in 1997’s Wilde was loss of name; the loss of livelihood that knowingly results from having one’s nature condemned. For Everett, name is a terrible ghost that haunts the man’s consciousness through airy memories and accusatory nightmares, detailing a loss more directly spiritual than Brian Gilbert’s sumptuous biopic. One of the hardest scenes depicts Clapham Junction, in which a profane mob is boxed uncomfortably into closeup as it (an amorphous, beastly ‘it’) repeatedly spits upon a glassy-eyed Wilde, whom Everett affords the harrowing expression of a man whose soul has long departed.

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It is a loss that renders his strained romances especially affecting, as it prolongs a constant mourning for a closeness that has been irrevocably denied. The pathos peaks through the author’s reunion with terrible darling, Bosie Douglas (a marvellously puerile Colin Morgan), in which Wilde cracks into chuckling half-sobs under a matter-of-fact “So, how are you?”

Admirable too is Edwin Thomas as a believably side-lined Robbie Ross, whose inclusion is a testament to the film’s respect for Wilde and his life. Carried equally by Emily Watson’s stoic Constance, what comes across is not a clean-cut appraisal of a literary icon, but a grounded acknowledgement of his spectacular fall, and the mark his defamation left on those who held him dear.

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Everett’s outrage is palpable throughout The Happy Prince, and today it’s an outrage easily empathised with. As the closing credits disclose, Wilde was officially pardoned by the British authorities last year, which following such a dark illustration of Wilde’s twilight years – feels an embarrassment in itself. For all the scorn, humiliation and self-hatred Wilde (as a human being, empathy need not be reserved for literary greats) endured toward the end of his life, forgiveness is not what the authorities should be issuing.

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Ocean’s 8 Review – Exchanges Soderbergh Languidness for Amusing Rhythm in a Glitzy, Charismatic Heist

The Ego has landed. 

In places, Ocean’s 8 meshes more with the likes of Dior and I and Yves Saint Laurent than with Soderbergh’s rebooted heist trilogy. Under the direction of The Hunger Games’ Gary Ross, Eigil Bryld’s camera glides seductively across spangling dress reveals and clinking champagne glasses with an opulence to rival Panem’s Capitol. But the choreographed con job beneath this glitzy, brand-spattered Ocean’s ultimately bubbles to the surface thanks to a charismatic all-female cast. Like aspirin into champagne, we’re tossed into Ocean’s 8; a pacey, poppily-edited heist movie that truly delights in showing off.

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We open with a callback to Soderbergh’s remade Ocean’s Eleven. A woman sits dewy-eyed in an orange boiler suit before a police officer. This is Debbie Ocean – convicted catburglar and younger sister of the late Danny. Her parol speech is also familiar: having seen the error of her ways, Debbie wants nothing more than to live the simple life, going for walks after work and paying her bills. Her brother’s blood – she assures –  is not hers.

Of course, the smile into which Deb lapses the second she’s paroled from prison is instantly recognisable. Within her first night of freedom, she glides effortlessly through Chanel and expensive hotels under names that aren’t hers. But though Deb obviously revels in the joys of casual theft (almost as much as Bullock herself delights in portraying her), she’s not turned casual yet. She’s been planning the ultimate heist for years: a jewel stakeout at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Reuniting with cool-headed partner-in-crime, Lou (Cate Blanchett), Deb tracks down the very best in the thieving biz to rob the prestigious Met Gala: an annual ball dedicated to the very finest in modern fashion. But while they’ll need the preparation, choreography and expert timing required of Danny’s meticulous jobs, Deb’s team has one unique strength: they’re all women. At an event where “men get noticed, women don’t”, no one’ll be any the wiser.

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Much of the charm behind Ocean’s 8 is how little it depends on the prior remakes; how easily it exchanges Soderbergh’s tendency toward languid slow motion and ample Clooney-schmoozing (Cloozing?) for fingersnapping pace and delivery. Bullock doesn’t draw too much from Eleven’s male lead, instead recalling the glib self-confidence she displayed in The Proposal and The Heat. Blanchett is the smart-talking rock of the group; leather-clad and dry-humoured, Lou exudes classic Bad Boy from every pore, and pulls it off with recognisable Blanchett authority to become the very epitome of cool.

The coolheaded rapport sustained between Bullock and Blanchett is countered winningly by a fidgety (and just-passably Irish) Helena Bonham-Carter, whose whimsical flightiness is given amusing weight by Mindy Kaling’s matter-of-fact delivery. Inarguably enjoying herself most is Anne Hathaway as the preciously egotistical Daphne Kluger, who seems to exist in a permanent Chanel advert, working the pout-sigh-hairflip cycle with hilarious commitment.

Elsewhere personable mononyms Rihanna and Awkwafina provide an up-to-the-minute counter amid the ritzy splendour. Awkwafina is bolshy and nimble as the street-grifting Constance, injecting a squirrely energy between Deb and Lou’s dry banter. Sparingly-scripted, Rihanna makes a grounded, yet almost endearing hacker-type, and though tending to float outside the group’s rapport, her deadpan delivery as the pot-happy ‘Nine Ball’ lines this Oceans’s bag of fun one-liners. Meanwhile, Sarah Paulson is somewhat underspent as the neurotic Q of Bullock’s operation, but is afforded a few glimmers of satisfaction amid the film’s affiliation for Bond-style gadgetry.

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Ocean’s 8 mixes the charisma of its ensemble of Hollywood titans with the thrill of the heist, and in so doing provides a star vehicle that looks as much a joy to have been a part of as it is to watch. Exchanging Soderbergh’s occasional languidness for percussion, pace and pulse, Ross’s film isn’t the exclamatory ‘female overhaul’ some may claim of it, but marks a satisfying, playful return to New York’s pickpocketing playground on very much its own terms. It’s a chain of dress reveals, gadgetorial tinkering and breezy deception; in which we’re invited to join Hathaway’s beguiling Daphne Kluger in exhaling: “Oh. Look at you.

 

Hereditary Review – A Slow Burning Portrait of Familial Anxieties and Unspoken Resentment

At its strongest, Ari Aster’s debut feature fixates upon neutral, offbeat details to the point of paralysing terror. Like the harmless clocking of one’s tongue against the roof of one’s mouth, the minute and unassuming are slowly weaponised as Hereditary’s dysfunctional family unravels into fits of paranoid suspicion.

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Aster made his directorial debut with short nightmare, The Strange Thing About The Johnsons; a claustrophobic glimpse at family anxieties and false appearances. The pulled-in, consciously synthetic style of Johnsons forms the main impulse of Hereditary, albeit at times padded out by unnecessary nods to familiar classics.

The family in question is the suburban Graham family. Annie Graham (Toni Collette) is an artist, who stages disquieting model scenes based on her past experiences. Her husband is stoic empath Steve (Gabriel Byrne); the lip-tensing counterbalance to Annie’s natural anxiousness. Between them, they’ve a daughter (Milly Shapiro) who sleeps outside and sketches creepy charcoal portraits, and a teenage son (Alex Wolff) who smokes weed and ogles girls’ bottoms. We join the Graham family upon the funeral of Annie’s late mother, Ellen; an enigmatic woman from whom Annie has always felt distant. Emotionally detached and ever so slightly curious, Annie becomes concerned with the life her mother lead, and how far she was responsible for her own experience as a parent.

There is an insistence in Pawel Pogorzelski’s cinematography upon showing the deeply synthetic reality within which the Grahams exist, entertaining a constant sense of inevitability underlying the family’s increasingly fraught relations. The very opening shot gives the impression of watching a play, gliding into the interior of a dolls’ house, bridging the gap between inanimate prop and the live action cast with dreamlike ease. The result is an enduring suspicion that these people exist as part of an elaborate design; as helpless cogs in a machine whose function remains unknown.

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It seems the Grahams are only partly aware of the reality they share, and the spirals of distrust spun deftly between the ensemble tap all too pertinently into anxieties of parental control and unspoken resentment. Toni Collette is an obvious standout, melding unbidden regret and desperate psychosis with an energy few actors have pulled off so frighteningly since The Babadook’s Essie Davis. Collette’s emotional helter-skelter is matched by an increasingly haggard Alex Wolff, who switches with temple-aching rapidity between paralytic fear and languid, zombie-like trauma. Milly Shapiro is a hypnotic physical presence as the thirteen-year-old Charlie; dwarfed in a sleevy hoodie, the teenager’s sunken eyes and thousand-yard stare give her the disorienting impression of appearing at once gnarled and eluded by age.

Hereditary evidently enjoys needling the grey area between psychosis and falsified threat. Moments of truly inescapable terror shift into periods of semi-lucid paranoia; exchanges that borrow amply from Rosemary’s Baby in that the exterior pleasantness always seems to be concealing some imperceptible ulterior motive. To discuss anything at length would be to risk spoiling the thrill, but suffice to say that Hereditary – at its most frightening – exploits the human tendency to find systems where none exist; to draw outlines in the amorphous haze at the end of your hallway.

Yet, Aster too often subscribes to familiar horror beats, flirting with homage in ways that fragment what is otherwise a cleverly-constructed psychological horror. This is strange, given the film works so well on its own; the dollhouse motif is continually creepy, and breeds a feeling of inevitability so intense it can be paralysing. But as soon as the Kubrick-esque angles and tired symbols creep in, Hereditary finds itself sloshing in moments of wry “a-ha”, and letting on to its own, perplexing underconfidence.

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This said, there are several I know of who’d equally consider this kind of comedy to work in the film’s favour. Certainly, Hereditary seems to recognise when things might be getting a little intense, and offers brief reprieve by retreating into comfortable tropes. While I can feel the largest of nose-wrinkles forming at the idea of a horror (particularly one marketed beneath the banner of The Exorcist) offering ‘a break from the scary’, Hereditary breeds true fear without becoming cruel. What stumbles as an unbridled horror, then, provides at least a humanely-paced thriller, and I can think of several genre enthusiasts who’d greatly appreciate the sympathy.

But make no mistake, Hereditary continues its foreboding play far beyond the film’s closure. Though occasionally giving needlessly into overdone images, Aster dwells subtly on familial anxieties and only vaguely-recognisable images; those nighttime shadows and brief wisps we tell ourselves are products of the mind, but could just as easily be something much, much different.

 

Casa Roshell Review – A Sympathetic Appraisal of Release in Ambiguity

Through its series of over-the-shoulder glances and extended reflection shots, Camila José Donoso’s inquisitive camera observes the interior happenings of the real Casa Roshell nightclub in Mexico City. Owned by Roshell Terranova, the club provides an expressive safehouse for the transgender women of Mexico City. It holds regular classes in body language; how to walk, talk – how to accentuate the hips; de-emphasize the shoulders. Despite the washes of glitter and showy, sequinned gowns, there’s a profound sense of release driving the Casa’s perpetual disco. It is this release that forms Donoso’s prime focus.

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Casa Roshell marks Donoso’s second glimpse into transgender experience. The Chilean filmmaker established her interest in underrepresented spheres in Latin America with Naomi Campbel in 2013, in which she tracked a trans woman’s struggle to fund her sex-reassignment surgery. With Casa Roshell, Donoso lends her sympathetic, occasionally experimental eye toward the community as a refuge amidst such struggle. An early scene spies two male forms from behind reflected in a mirror, curiously watching them disappear into ritual application of foundation, corsets and sequins. Gradually, they transform into women, but the emotional result of the change overrides any sense of illusion that may arise from assumptions of ‘drag’. We see them relax into themselves; still tentative (for the struggles of their daily lives away from the club always are always kept poignantly within grasp), but unquestionably more authentic. As Rochell fixes her eyebrows with Da Vinci-like precision in a nearby mirror, she inhales, closes her eyes, exhales in a moment of almost-euphoric relief. Beneath the masterful contouring and luxuriant blonde wig, she suddenly looks ten pounds lighter. She looks at home.

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There’s a noticeable fascination with inner reflections throughout Casa Roshell. The secret sisterhood shared by the central cast unfolds through a selection of well-placed mirrors; a glaring realisation of the dependence these women have upon looks, and of the irony in being required to create illusions to have one’s true identity accepted. But through this comes a more general affirmation of the universality of illusion; the props through which we identify ourselves, and the empowerment that comes from owning them. As time seems to halt amid the haze of besequinned gowns and clinking-cocktail glasses, it becomes apparent that Casa Roshell offers just as much respite for the cisgendered visitors to the club as to the trans women who find release in its community. Some men come wielding the excuse that they’re ‘bisexual’, while others attend with a curiosity for “trying new things”. Regardless, Casa Roshell is welcoming, good-humoured and perfectly open to questions about identity, and despite the staginess perceived in most of the couple scenes, the sensual joy both parties find in blurring conventions of gender is upliftingly sincere.

The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival last year, and having just been secured by the UK curators at MUBI, we might hope the film gains at least a marginal boost in recognition this Pride Month. Despite its noticeable staginess, Donoso delights in observing the unique power the stage holds for the marginalized, allowing notions of inauthenticity to fade into empathic satisfaction.

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With its observatory style and communal tone, Donoso’s film should be considered one of the empowering participators in the recent movement toward transgender representation on screen. Alongside Sebastian Lelio’s dignified portrait of daily trans experience in A Fantastic Woman (the sensual palette for which offers a similarly inviting blurring of binaries to Donoso’s film), Casa Roshell adds to the expanding list of trans films featuring a trans cast (Sean Baker’s earlier Tangerine, equally, cannot be overlooked). Though, like the women of Casa Roshell, the viewer must eventually return to a world perforated by ignorance and threat, Danoso leaves the club’s interior as an uplifting visualisation of the profound relief of ambiguity.

Alex Strangelove Review: An Inclusive Storyline Diminished by Nostalgia

After Love, Simon brought the gay experience so admirably into the mainstream in the form of a fluffy teen comedy, it seems the financial success of recent genre revisions has begun to elicit a shift in contemporary Hollywood toward queer narratives. On its face, Alex Strangelove nods encouragingly in support of this new motion. Set in an all-American high school reminiscent of a John Hughes picture, Craig Johnson’s teen comedy hits the familiar notes of young confusion, teen awkwardness and cheek-burning humiliation, while placing issues of identity, sexuality and coming-out at its heart.

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The story chronicles Alex Truelove (Daniel Donehy). Straight-A pupil, beloved class president and just geeky enough to ensure he’s not detested, Alex is a portrait of high-school success; a mantle he expects to carry into his first year at college. The set-up is punctured by the arrival of Claire of course (played frankly by Beach Rats’s Madeleine Weinstein), whose charming unflappability grabs him instantly. As their relationship develops at the breakneck pace of real high school couplehood, the pair experience a mounting pressure to take things to the next level. The concept of “doing it” is every bit as daunting as it was in Sixteen Candles (the Hughes film is referenced in passing, incidentally); Alex is frightened of disappointing Claire, and Claire can’t work out why her boyfriend won’t let her “de-virginize” him. To make matters more complicated, he eventually crosses paths with Elliott (Antonio Marziale of Altered Carbon), who’s funny, pillowy-haired and openly gay. They hit it off instantly, but Alex quickly begins to surmise they may be something other than friends. Thus, Alex’s presumed heterosexuality is thrown veritably out of the window, as the antsy teen embarks on a sexual odyssey to affirm his sexuality.

But whereas Love, Simon offered a sincere snapshot of modern, high school experience, Alex Strangelove sets such inclusion against a glaring nostalgia for the coming-of-age genre, which seems to have tinted its spectacles enough to gloss over the issues afflicting those films. The result is a comedy that unwittingly places the teenage mindset of the 1980’s (with Freaks and Geeks, Sixteen Candles and Porky’s fronting the crowd) into a noticeably contemporary American high school, which makes it appear out of touch with the audience it seeks to address.

Some prefer to view the film as a send-up of the teen classics, rather than a contemporary. True, Alex’s slur-slinging, leather-jacket wearing sidekick Dell (Daniel Zolghadri pulls off an unfortunate script with the appreciable charm of a slightly hornier Neal from Freaks and Geeks) recalls the bullishness of Porky’s (in one scene stripping down in the schoolyard before asking Alex if he likes what he sees), but it transports some disparaging attitudes contained within earlier films into the modern day. The Moonlight poster hanging on the wall of lip-biting love interest, Elliott places us incontestably in the here and now, at the same time Dell writes off Alex’s questioning identity as “epic neurosis” manifested by his anxiety about screwing Claire. I’ve no issue with Alex Strangelove as a modern homage to the 80’s teen comedy, but there are problems with updating the setting while failing to recognise that attitudes surrounding sex, gender and identity have moved on.

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Now, I don’t believe for one minute that this is a malevolent film. Aside from being partly-based on Johnson’s own experiences as a gay teen, there are glimmering attempts in there to recognise identity for the spectrum it is. Certainly, it’s encouraging to see a group of young adults acknowledge preferences still hovering on the fringes of mainstream awareness, from polyamory and pansexuality, to non-binary identity.

Yet, Strangelove frequently takes on more than it should, leaving itself little time to explore anything more than basic (at times confusing) assumptions about the LGBT+ community.  In one scene, there’s an odd mix-up between polyamory and pansexuality (which I’d imagine could yield genuine confusion, given neither are particularly well-discussed in the public sphere), before one of the characters trivialises it as a “new thing the kids are experimenting with.”

Thankfully, the film does eventually accept incorrect assumptions as harmful precursors for bullying. I suppose there’s a case to be made about how the film tries to present roguish banter as an equal form of harassment, but misunderstandings are so inconsequential in Alex Strangelove that we leave with the assumption that it’s okay if you’re doing it to be funny.

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Equally, Alex Strangelove is admirable when it commits fully to its hero. Amid attempts to cover as much LGBT+ ground as possible are the genuinely rather sweet instances of self-discovery shared between Alex and Elliott. It’s ironically when the film is content to watch Elliott goofing around his bedroom in a fantastic pink wig, or as the pair sit back-to-back in a frank heart-to-heart. As encouraging as it is to see another teen comedy committed to queer representation, it’s plain to see where Alex Strangelove’s priorities lay. While 80’s nostalgia isn’t an abominable aesthetic (kindly see outside your window for further examples), it’s unwise to evoke a previous era without contemplating why things might have changed.

Cargo Review – A More Thoughtful Entry in a Genre that Asks for Clarity

Yolanda Ramke uses the prolific zombie genre as a primer for exploring certain anxieties and inequalities concerning power relations and time. For what it’s worth, the intent is visible and delivered with remarkable understatement by the main cast. Its main stumbling block – as several have already observed – is its tentative relationship with the zombie genre. Cargo nudges amply towards flesh eaters and escape sequences, while attempting vehemently to provide something more gradual and symbolic. Though this perhaps undermines the symbolism considerably, it’s ultimately heartening to see the genre sidling down more meditative, thoughtful routes, than the pulse-racing paths of gore that have since gained pop cultural purchase.

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In, Cargo, the world has been savaged by a mysterious virus, and has left Freeman’s Andy, his wife Kay (Susie Porter) and their baby Rosie to fend for themselves in a ramshackle canal boat. Amidst the gaping stretches of grey lake and unkempt overgrowth, human life is only visible in snatches. Early on, Andy shares a hair-bristling glance with who could have – in another time – been a neighbour, but has been reduced to grasping tentatively at a gun while gathering around the single balloon and picnic table he’s salvaged for his child’s birthday. Through images both stark and reticent, we’re made to ponder what child could thrive here.

The opening moments are slow-paced, meditative, solidifying Cargo’s intent to be more character study than trigger happy action flick. The opening setting itself is also rather refreshing – there aren’t a great deal of post-apocalyptic dramas that make use of the canal boat, but for reasons that soon become apparent, the makeshift fort is quickly abandoned.

As you might expect, things get ugly. Interestingly, the way in which infection is approached in Cargo seems more measured than most other genre pictures. When infected, the victim is left with 48 hours before they inevitably lose themselves. It’s a smart literalisation of the ‘ticking clock’ that so often plagues contemporary experience; the constant pressure to do as much as one can before it is too late, and the subsequent frustration in working out how to go about it.

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Like Romero’s inaugural Night of the Living Dead, Cargo makes good use of its dystopic landscape to interrogate current issues. Alongside disquieting meditations upon the brittleness of equality in the midst of systemic breakdown, the film attempts to interrogate the- still quite fraught – relationship of Australian indigenousness toward a land now dominated by “white fellas”; what Thoomi – a young indigenous teen Freeman befriends on his cross-country quest – calls gubbas.

But it seems several critics have struggled with Ramke’s film by virtue of the genre it so ardently tries to enter. It’s true that Cargo almost works against itself in trying to provide a thrilling zombie movie alongside a blunt social critique. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that the outback hadn’t been sent spiralling into overgrowth by reasons other than a mysterious human disease, the allegory may well have been more noticeable. What Ramke often does instead is provide the viewer with just enough iconography to tantalize the zombie mode, before drifting off in attempt to develop the voice of the young Thoomi (played by a diminutive, yet unavoidably authoritative Simone Landers), and her coming to terms with the conditions she finds herself in. What could’ve succeeded, then, as a less-parodic Mad Max interrogating the social imbalances and anxieties that could very well take over if our brittle culture suddenly imploded, reads instead like an extension of the social drama contained in The Walking Dead; those moments that only really work because of the urgency created by the visible threat of the zombie hordes.

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There’s already a lot of praise surrounding Cargo as a different kind of zombie movie, most of which isolate Freeman as a lightbringer to Ramke’s film. But while Freeman no doubt taps into deep, inner turmoil as believably and effortlessly as he has in his previous roles, there is nevertheless something in Cargo that prevents me viewing it as the sinking canal boat Freeman must step in to save. Aside from the captivating performance of newcomer Simone Landers, Ramke’s film is harrowing, thought-provoking and charged with fascinating imagery; the regrettable thing about it that it attempts to satisfy a genre that calls for something more conspicuous.

Book Club Review – A Harmless Star Vehicle and Unabashed Giggler

When picturing Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen taking turns face-pulling at Fifty Shades of Grey, it becomes starkly obvious how much Book Club screams ‘boardroom epiphany’. With only the vaguest tonal resemblance to Nancy Meyers’ films, Bill Holderman’s debut is unavoidably a star vehicle targeted at a certain generation; the club itself a convenient ploy for shunting the film amongst better, more sensitively-written entries in what has been informally dubbed the ‘we-still-got-it’ genre.

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It’s truly a relief the four were signed on together, however, because if it wasn’t for the quartet’s eybrow-cocking chemistry, Book Club would have been every bit as dreadful as I was expecting it to be. As it turns out, the revered golden girls emit a fond chemistry grounded in the cackling naughtiness of E.L James’s novel, in a way that manages to keep this knitted-scarf of innuendo unravelling entirely.

The four are old college friends, who’ve managed to keep their friendship going by creating a monthly book club. Having exhausted their back catalogue over not-ungenerous doses of alcohol, it falls to Fonda’s Vivian to propose the ultimate game-changer in their literary odyssey: E.L James’ notorious Fifty Shades saga.

As you might expect, it quickly transpires the odyssey the book triggers is all but literary. After discussing the various pitfalls they’ve experienced in their sex-lives, James’s novel challenges them to confront their hang-ups about age and awaken their buried love lives.

For what is largely a string of innuendo slung across a superficial book concept, the script is greatly supported by the delivery of the main cast. The highlight is Bergen’s Sharon: a federal judge whose professional demeanour keeps her hilariously separate from the dirty, flirty world of online dating. As she works her way through Bumble, against inconvenient pop ups that seem to emanate from her computer at all the wrong moments, watching Bergen stiffen and cringe her way through hip night clubs and awkward blind dates (one of whom is a sadly underused Wallace Shawn) quickly becomes a tentpole for the entire film.

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Carol (Burgensteen) isn’t much luckier. Married to a Craig T. Nelson who ogles his motorcycle more than his wife (don’t worry, the metaphor certainly isn’t wasted), her painstaking attempts to woo her deflated husband – to the point of spiking his drink with Viagra – hums comfortably enough to the beats of an ‘oh naughty’ comedy.

To its merit, there is a perceivable level of sympathy written into the sexual caper. Issues of mortality, repression and what it means to be a parent certainly aren’t lost on Holderman (nor his screenwriting counterpart, Erin Simms), and there are moments in Book Club that almost feel out of place in how poignantly they come to light. Nelson’s Bruce evokes the grounded frustration of his earlier role in NBC’s Parenthood, and despite a host of uncomfortable dinner conversations and green-screened flying sequences, Diane (Keaton)’s attempts to convince her adult daughters (Alicia Silverstone and Katie Aselton make a believable – if rather irritating – duo) to stop mollycoddling her into an early grave place an uplifting emphasis on the life in ‘later life’.

To be clear, there are some decent laughs to be had, and I was happy to join the audience of twinkly-eyed mothers I attended with in chortling at all three of them. Admittedly, I’m aware I may not be the target audience for this send up to later-life raunchiness, but in the wake of Something’s Gotta Give, Crazy, Stupid Love and Netflix’s stellar Grace and Frankie (in which Fonda’s Book Club role is treated with genuine, biting wit), I can’t pretend there aren’t other we-still-got-it comedies I’d sooner recommend.