BOOK CLUB: THE NEXT CHAPTER
As of this writing, the Writers Guild of America is on strike for among other things concerns about Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) writing scripts. I do not know why the WGA is so up in arms about this given that Book Club: The Next Chapter comes across as something written by A.I. Lazy, dumb, unfunny and cringe-inducing, The Next Chapter is one of if not the worst movie I have seen this year.
After their book club was forced online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our four friends finally get to see each other in person. Perfect timing, for slutty Vivian (Jane Fonda) has finally gotten engaged to her long-term boyfriend Arthur (Don Johnson). Sensing that fate is calling them, former restauranteur Carol (Mary Steenburgen) says that they are all meant to go to Italy for a bachelorette journey. The Alchemist suggests this trip, even if it means leaving Carol's husband Bruce (Craig T. Nelson) on his own, where he may not resist the temptations of bacon. Straightlaced Diane (Diane Keaton) who also has to leave her long-term boyfriend Mitchell (Andy Garcia) and now retired judge Sharon (Candice Bergen) reluctantly agree to go.
Once in Italy, our gal-pals get into all sorts of hijinks. Random hookups! Puns! Wedding dresses montage! Pesky Italian policemen! Hot Italian policemen! Reencounters with old boyfriends! As the journey closes, we find that not everything goes according to plan, but with BFFs all around, Italy can be fun.
It is not unfair to compare Book Club: The Next Chapter with another "four old ladies go on a trip and go wild" film released a mere three months ago. Both this film and 80 for Brady have jokes about fanny packs. Both films have three Oscar winners and an Emmy winner in the cast. Both films have a dance sequence. Both films even have Jane Fonda playing a near nymphomaniac.
There are some differences. One is set in Houston, the other in Italy. Calling the fanny pack a "waist wallet" and not a "strap-on" is the one element on which The Next Chapter is perhaps superior to 80 for Brady.
80 for Brady, however, did not have a Mother Teresa sex joke.
Director and cowriter Bill Holderman (writing with Erin Simms) should know these characters as they cowrote and directed the original Book Club. However, what ends up on the screen does not expand, I presume, any of these characters lives (to be fair, I never saw Book Club). In many ways, the characters come across as insane and inane. When, for example, one of the asks Vivian after she announces her engagement, "Do you have a date?", Vivian replies, "I think I'll go with Arthur".
At that point, I did ask myself, "Senile or crazy?". The line could have come off as a joke playing on a pun, but the way Holderman directed Fonda (and how Fonda acted it out), one was not sure if Vivian understood what she was being asked. So much in The Next Chapter makes our Fab Four look incredibly stupid that it is a wonder their family members have not institutionalized them.
So much in The Next Chapter is downright idiotic and illogical. When in Rome, they are having dinner with Vincenzo (Francesco Serpico). Who is Vincenzo? Judging from The Next Chapter, he's some random cartoonist who just happens to be there. Why he is there, or what his purpose is in the scene, or how he ended up not just sitting there but interacting with these Americans the film does not bother explaining.
The Next Chapter does not bother explaining a lot of things. Near the end, the four women are stranded in Tuscany on their way to Florence. It is urgent that they get back because the other three women have smuggled Arthur in so that he and Vivian can have a surprise Italian wedding.
Let us put aside for the moment that Vivian bizarrely thinks that the Italian policeman that comes upon them is really an Italian stripper. If Arthur is in Italy along with the other husbands, would they not have been alarmed that the women had failed to arrive in Florence when they were supposed to?
Exactly how much territory does the Police Chief (Giancarlo Giannini) cover? It is one thing to meet him twice in Venice (once when their luggage was stolen in Rome, once when he stops a boat where Sharon is hooking up with someone she just met). However, why is he arresting them when they are in Tuscany?
As a side note, when Giannini first appears, I did something I have never done before: I literally said, "He's STILL alive?".
I think that everyone involved in The Next Chapter knew it was garbage. All the actors could barely get the lines out, expressing no enthusiasm for the script they were given. There was a roteness in every performance, a sense that the dialogue was so bad it was not worth the effort. Even when clearly making jokes, the delivery bordered on bored. We are told they are going to see a bunch of naked men. Cut to ancient nude statues. As they stare, Sharon quips, "I think some of these guys were there at my last bachelorette party". The line itself could be funny IF it has any kind of edge. Instead, it is said in such a bored manner that it only emphasizes that it is a quip.
There are no performances in The Next Chapter. What there is instead is a chance for cast and crew to enjoy the beauty of Italy (the film ends with a montage of production stills that show how much fun everyone is having, even with masks).
I am convinced that there must be a literal template for films like Book Club: The Next Chapter and 80 for Brady. It is simply impossible to believe that people got paid to make this movie, let alone be proud of it.