Candice Bergen is probably only half kidding when she says that Book Club, the new movie in which she stars with Jane Fonda, Diane Keaton and Mary Steenburgen, is about “glamorous geezers having sex.” Sure, the plot revolves around four older women reading Fifty Shades of Grey, and that does precipitate a little over-70 sex (and a lot of talking about it).
But the male love interests here (Richard Dreyfuss, Don Johnson, Andy Garcia and Craig T. Nelson) are supporting players–comic foils for funny, sexy women. There’s plenty of over-the-top romance, and most of the expected boxes get checked. (Almost everyone couples up in the end.) The heart of the story, though, is about friendship–both onscreen and off.
From the minute these four women walk into the garden at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills for tea and tiny macarons, it’s obvious they really like one another. This is the first time any of them have worked together, but it seems as if they, like their characters, have known one another for ages. Or so we want to believe. With people who have been so famous for so long, the lines between the individuals and their roles inevitably blur.
That’s especially true with this movie. The production budget was so small that some of the clothing the actors wear is their own, from Keaton’s wide belts to Fonda’s slim pantsuits. Co-producers and writers Erin Simms and Bill Holderman (who also directed) wrote one character with Keaton in mind and revised another for Fonda, after she deemed the original script too simplistic.
The filmmakers were also advised to cast younger “older” women–all the leads but Steenburgen are over 70. They wisely declined and ended up with a roster of icons with four Oscars and six Emmys between them. Despite all that talent, they had to finance the film independently before it was acquired for distribution.
It’s different when the stars are men. There are ample parts in blockbusters and buddy movies for older dudes, grumpy and otherwise. And while it’s noteworthy when four women over 60 lead a movie, no one marvels at seeing 63-year-old Denzel Washington as an action hero in the upcoming The Equalizer 2 or 65-year-old Jeff Goldblum in this summer’s
It’s doubtful that either of those men had to borrow from their own closets, but watching the stars of Book Club cracking jokes over tea, it’s hard not to think that it might be the action heroes who are missing out.
“Who wants peppermint? Jane, give me your cup.” Bergen takes the lead at tea, and within 15 minutes, the women have covered subjects including sex, sexism, loss, aging, feeling invisible as an older person and making new friends when everyone already knows your name.
“It’s always been the woman’s disadvantage to be older, never the man’s,” says Fonda. But how is it to age in Hollywood’s fickle climate? Did they ever grieve the loss of attention?
“Once I turned 40, I was like, ‘Hey, hey!’” says Bergen, waving her arms. “And now at almost 72, I don’t even expect anyone to acknowledge my presence.”
“She’s right,” says Keaton.
“But I love being invisible,” Fonda says. “I can go anywhere.”
The whole table turns to her, incredulous. But Fonda insists she can go to a grocery store unnoticed, without wearing a disguise.
“If you just move through life in a certain way, people don’t pay any attention,” she says.
Everyone digests this silently for a few seconds. Then Bergen says quietly, “Well … I did have a tiiiiny, tiiiiny moment of grief.” Her timing is exquisite, cracking everyone up. She explains that after her hit 1990s show, Murphy Brown, ended, she had to get used to spelling her name for a restaurant reservation.
All the women say they’re grateful to still be working actors, not least of all on a film relevant to their demographic–one that’s pitifully underserved. “That this movie was made at all is a miracle,” says Bergen. “A miracle,” agrees Keaton.
Fonda says she never expected to be going to a set every day at 80. And it’s true: just by being here in the spotlight, they have already defied the special laws of gravity that govern women in Hollywood. Survival is success.
At one point, Keaton interjects to marvel that the four of them have only now found one another. “I just didn’t know how hilarious these women were or how we could have this kind of a conversation!” She gestures in a Keatonian way, “I mean, oh my God!”
There’s always an element of both delight and caution in finding new friends later in life, and it’s surely more complicated for celebrities. Steenburgen says actors are often surprisingly reticent about meeting new people or even going to parties. But she adds, “I actually want to be braver about everything, including friendships.