“Book Club: The Next Chapter” stars Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Giancarlo Giannini, Andy Garcia, and Don Johnson. Released on May 12, 2023, the film has four friends embarking on an adventure during their vacation in Italy.
The film was directed by Bill Holderman, and it is a sequel to Holderman's 2018 film, "Book Club". Mother's Day is the type of holiday that has us figuring out something special to do with our mothers. We can make them our special breakfasts, treat them to lunch, do lots of chores for them, or maybe take them on vacation overseas. However, this latest sequel shows that these mothers can handle the latter part themselves. After starting the summer season with the intergalactic guardians, I figured I would look at something more relaxing and wholesome this weekend before returning to the action. I got to have some boundaries from the fists flying and big-budget visuals every once in a while. This latest sequel sees the return of the book club members who used E. L. James' erotic romance novel to inject pleasure into their relationships. I always knew that book is trouble for putting dirty things inside a person's mind. However, they're taking their club overseas as they tackle a cross-country adventure instead of reading another romance novel that'll turn them on. Does this vacation offer the same enjoyment as its predecessor? Let's find out.
The story continues the adventures of four best friends: Diane (Keaton), Vivian (Fonda), Sharon (Bergen), and Carol (Steenburgen). When Vivian announces she's getting married to Arthur (Johnson), the friends decide to take a girls' trip overseas for their bachelorette party. Their trip takes them to Italy, where they embark on a series of mishaps that threaten to derail their getaway. However, the friends also uncover multiple secrets that affect more than just their girls' trip.
The first "Book Club" movie back in 2018 was something I didn't expect myself to watch since I wasn't big on romantic comedies. But my mother wanted to see it, so I decided to experience it with her. Despite not adding anything new to the genre's formula, the film was a surprisingly decent treat that benefited from its charismatic cast and humor. Fortunately, my mother liked it more than I did, so I called this a win. When I found out that a sequel was made, a part of me felt that it looked like another unnecessary cash grab from Hollywood. However, the other part thought it would make for a good Mother's Day film for my mom, giving me an excuse to check it out. After all, I endured a movie about four seniors going goo-goo over Tom Brady, so there's no doubt I would do the same for something about plenty of pleasure-obsessed women taking an overseas vacation.
The thing to know about "The Next Chapter" is that you don't need to watch its predecessor to understand the sequel. It's a standalone comedy involving four best friends on an adventure in Italy. However, watching the first film is necessary to know what you will get in the follow-up regarding its tone and brand of humor. Like its predecessor, "The Next Chapter" is a light-hearted romantic comedy featuring plenty of spicy suggestive material from four ladies looking for fun and pleasure. If you enjoyed "Book Club" because of it, you'd definitely be pleased with "The Next Chapter", which offers plenty of that and nothing else. Unfortunately, the people who don't care much about its predecessor and the genre will probably want to take a different trip.
Regarding its plot, "Book Club: The Next Chapter" provides a series of sitcom-like scenarios involving Diane and her friends exploring Italy while preparing for Vivian's wedding, and that's it. It does feature the other situations the characters face outside of it, including Diane bringing the ashes of her late husband and Carol's husband Bruce (Nelson) facing a heart condition. Not to mention it had several thoughtful messages that have their heart in the right place. However, these scenarios didn't make much of a dent in its central narrative or a lack of a compelling one. The sequel doesn't offer much outside its genre cliches and fundamental story regarding its screenplay by Bill Holderman and Erin Simms, the same duo behind its predecessor. As a result, the film is a bare-bones experience that requires the right mood and plenty of patience due to its inconsistent pacing.
But despite the issues that plagued most of this vacation, I can't help but admit that I had a relaxing time watching this undemanding but harmless follow-up. "The Next Chapter" is another movie whose entire goal was to provide escapism from the real world regardless of the quality. It doesn't need only fantastical elements, imaginative realms, or a comedic confrontation to distract us. Sometimes, all we need is the essential and relaxing side of everyday life to keep us away from the violence and toxicity we have endured recently. As a moviegoer, I think this film accomplished this simplistic goal easily. On the other hand, as a reviewer, "The Next Chapter" may not age as well as a bottle of Italian wine, but it has a taste that's easy to digest.
Part of that is due to Bill Holderman's direction. Holderman is no stranger to working with long-time actors from the past generation as a writer and producer and has done some pretty decent work over the years. The first "Book Club" put Holderman in the director's chair for the first time to accomplish this similar feat: to provide a suitable piece of entertainment for an older crowd who grew up with specific actors like Robert Redford and Diane Keaton. The result was far from groundbreaking, but Holderman understood the process of providing heart and endearment out of four seniors reading Fifty Shades of Grey. "The Next Chapter" sees Holderman maintain the tone that worked in its predecessor while providing the corniness of its humor and heart.
Speaking of humor, the film consists of several jokes involving sexual suggestions and cheesy one-liners. It even features Vivian mistaking a police officer for a cosplay stripper, if that isn't enough to convince you. If you've watched the first movie, you'll quickly understand the sequel's mildly risqué humor. But, of course, the comedy will highly depend on someone's mood, including mine. The film's comedy delivered a suitable blend of charm, cheesiness, and chuckles to keep this vacation enthusiastic, but only in the first half. After a while, this girls' trip lost some of its comedic steam, making the remaining jokes more corny than hysterical.
Fortunately, even with its mawkish humor, there's no denying that the film quickly benefited from its talented quartet of leading ladies. Like "Book Club", "The Next Chapter" has the main actresses carrying their huge baggage from beginning to end. Based on my history with some of the actresses, the result is what I expected. They're fun, charming, and even amusingly lively. Keaton, Fonda, Bergen, and Steenburgen were all constantly entertaining as the book club friends, which is enough to make my uneven trip less of a chore. The supporting cast also did pretty well helping the main leads make this vacation entertaining, including Don Johnson as Arthur.
Overall, "Book Club: The Next Chapter" will likely please fans of its predecessor and the actresses involved with its feel-good tone. However, for everyone else, it's an undemanding and middling girls' trip that struggles to make it worth a read. It's another movie that mostly succeeds in giving its audiences a light-hearted, low-stakes piece of escapism from the horrors of stupidity and hate-related violence. Sadly, everything else is average enough to make this vacation fun for a while, but it will likely be forgotten after a few days. The main leads are as endearing as ever, and its harmless tone is tolerable. Unfortunately, its average screenplay, genre cliches, hit-and-miss humor, and pacing make this international trip a tiny step down from the first book club gathering. Also, in case you're wondering, my mother enjoyed it more than I did, so I can't complain too much.