As I wrote earlier this year, “senior-citizen dramedies” bewitch us with “behavior that belies the characters’ ages.” Older women flocked to 80 for Brady to see ladies like them stay up past their bedtime and go football-crazy at the Super Bowl. This Mother’s Day weekend, they’re primed to see some golden girls get their drink and dalliance on in Italy with Book Club: The Next Chapter.
Although it’s not as grounded as the first film — and its sense of humor is groan-inducing — The Next Chapter shines when it focuses on remaining true to yourself even as you grow older and refusing to give in to societal expectations.
The film revolves around the unexpected wedding of Vivian (Jane Fonda) and Arthur (Don Johnson), a surprise due to Vivian’s staunch stance against marriage. When the COVID travel ban lifts, her friends — Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) — decide to throw her a bachelorette party in Italy.
The first half of the trip consists of the same tired, jokey phrases you’d find on cups and decor at Pottery Barn: “Wake me up when it’s time for wine!” or “I’m still hot — it just comes in flashes now!” (Those aren’t actual lines of dialogue but they might as well be.)
At least the film handsomely showcases its Italian vistas, providing a refreshing departure from its early stateside scenes where the settings resemble fake Zoom backgrounds.
The ensemble shares genuine, endearing chemistry, and it’s a pleasure to hang out with them even as they’re just casually jaunting around romantic locales. The film will probably be a dull home-viewing experience, but in a dark, chilly theater, it feels like a warm, low-key reunion with friends.
The third act brings out the most tension and heart. As they did with the first film, director / co-writer Bill Holderman and co-writer Erin Simms thoughtfully explore the futility of caving to societal pressure when life is already short enough. They also give each character a rich conflict and empowering option for resolving it. Diane can either cling to her grief over her first husband or embrace her new love. Carol can obsess over keeping her husband alive and well or let the two of them truly live. Sharon can hold onto her judge’s robe and keep playing by the book or throw caution to the wind. And, of course, Vivian has big decisions to make as the bride-to-be.
These are real issues that women in their 70s and 80s face, and therein lies the film’s poignant quality. Although it’s as glossy as a Chanel commercial and thus less down to earth than the original film, The Next Chapter has the power to bring a tear to your eye as it reminds you that your mother still has new fears and desires to add to her lifetime of luggage.
This quirky subgenre of “Golden Girls gone PG-13 wild” seems to be gaining popularity, and I welcome it. Amid dread about the future that turns hair gray, it’s fun to see older people living it up. It’s nice that we no longer mock it as much. We root for the Rolling Stones to keep on rocking. We marvel at the poster for the new Indiana Jones film even when it’s just a close-up of Harrison Ford’s 80-year-old face. Older people are cool. As The Next Chapter shows, they still have their mojo.