Shropshire Star

Film Talk: Latest Movie Releases – New chapter for power-quartet of leading ladies

There’s always something joyous about the proverbial stag night/hen do flick.

Book Club: The Next Chapter: Diane Keaton as Diane, Jane Fonda as Vivian, Candice Bergen as Sharon and Mary Steenburgen as Carol

I can remember seeing 1984’s Bachelor Party many years after its release, and the fun-filled romp starring Tom Hanks became something of a cheeky ‘immoral compass’ for me and mine for a long time.

Fast forward a good many years more, and we have Bridesmaids. Paul Feig’s 2011 side-splitter instantly went down in history as a chick flick with a difference, and like Bachelor Party before it, was spun into pure gold through the exceptional chemistry of its cast.

Then of course we have The Hangover – an ironically unforgettable yarn about a group of pals who don’t remember a thing following the carnage of their best bud’s last night of freedom. This pearler set the general bar on prenuptial party flicks, yet in 2013 an entry came along that stole the crown and proved why there is value in vintage.

Directed by Jon Turteltaub, Last Vegas threw the silver fox quartet of Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline into the ring for a bachelor party bout that saw the four elder statesmen take on the delights of Sin City. It was simply superb, and placing four such talented stars in such a cheeky scenario in the autumn of their years worked a treat. More, please – this idea has got legs.

Well, this week, ‘more’ has been provided. Picking up where 2018’s Book Club left off, Book Club: The Next Chapter places the veteran cast of Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen in a European adventure as one of their number prepares for later-life matrimony. But does it hold a candle to the original, and could it possibly stand up to Last Vegas? Here comes the bride...


Released: May 12 (UK & Ireland)

How does a woman in her 70s end up getting married?

The opening line of dialogue from writer-director Bill Holderman and co-writer Erin Simms’ feel-good sequel distils the predictable narrative arc of Book Club: The Next Chapter, a lightly effervescent road trip of heartfelt sisterly solidarity transplanting four gal pals from the 2018 film to sun-kissed Italy.

An upbeat soundtrack including Bette Midler’s lively rendition of Mambo Italiano matches the frothiness of a script, which drizzles on the syrupy sentiment especially when it comes to the lead characters played by Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen openly declaring their love for each other.

Sweetness and sincerity are two of the film’s great strengths, coupled with fizzing on-screen chemistry between actresses who instinctively know how to skip merrily between conversational humour and occasional smut.

Some of the innuendo feels contrived, a concerted effort to brand this European jaunt as Sexuagenarians In The City, but laughs are evenly spread across 108 undemanding minutes that trade on the undiminished lustre of stars with four Academy Awards and more than 200 years of screen credits between them.

In particular, Bergen relishes her retired judge’s dry wit, whether it be extolling the safety features of a bum bag or appraising the beauty of modern Rome (“I love anything that’s falling apart more than I am”). Holderman’s crowd-pleasing picture comfortably maintains its composure.

Diane (Keaton), Vivian (Fonda), Sharon (Bergen) and Carol (Steenburgen) have been best friends for more than 50 years and when Covid-19 impacts their ability to meet in person, the women embrace technology and video-conferencing.

Once restrictions and travel bans lift, the quartet hatches a hare-brained scheme to visit the Italian capital to celebrate Vivian’s engagement to her debonair old flame Arthur (Don Johnson).

Carol misses her husband Bruce (Craig T Nelson), who is recovering from a minor stroke, and Diane’s heart grows fonder for beau Mitchell (Andy Garcia), but Sharon takes full advantage of being the only single member of the gang by flirting with a retired philosophy professor (Hugh Quarshie) during a brief sojourn in Venice.

Far from home, sisterly bonds are strengthened, a despairing Italian police chief (Giancarlo Giannini) becomes a knight in shining armour and Carol unexpectedly crosses paths with a charismatic chef (Vincent Riotta).

Book Club: The Next Chapter flicks through the same pages of character development and wish-fulfilment as the first film with an abundance of warmth and charm.

Italian locations look breath-taking (a brief episode of criminality is glossed over for laughs) and cynicism and woe are tossed into the Trevi Fountain to guarantee a fun-filled travel itinerary of happy endings.

The sequel delivers everything we expect, no less, no more.

LOVE AGAIN (12A, 104 mins)

Released: May 10 (UK & Ireland)

Sam Heughan as Rob Burns and Celine Dion as herself in Love Again

Where does my heart beat now. Nothing but my broken heart. Love can move mountains. The power of love. Falling into you. Because you loved me. My heart will go on.

Following her one-point victory at the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest representing Switzerland, chart-topping Canadian pop siren Celine Dion has built a lucrative brand from trilling about that crazy little thing called love.

In writer-director James C Strouse’s English-language remake of the German romance SMS Fur Dich, Dion plays a fictionalised version of herself, embodying a fairy godmother to two emotionally damaged souls who have given up on love until outrageous coincidence propels them into each other’s orbits.

The clunky mechanics of Strouse’s script and the on-screen courtship of Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Sam Heughan make lighter impressions than Dion’s big-screen acting debut, which is sincere, especially when she shares touching anecdotes about late husband and manager Rene Angelil.

The singer delivers risible one-liners with a straight face (“You have the presence of a pair of used underwear”) and papers over dramatic lulls with five new songs.

“We are in the middle of a Celinaissance,” gushes one character (Steve Oram) to justify his enduring love affair with the chanteuse.

Dion is the guiding light of Strouse’s picture. In her shadow is children’s book illustrator Mira Ray (Chopra Jonas), creator of the best-selling Bhoomi The Stubborn Caterpillar series, who gives up on life and her cutesy literary creation after she witnesses the death of her fiance (Arinze Kene) on the streets of New York.

Two years later, Mira is weighed down by grief and living with her younger sister Suzy (Sofia Barclay), unable to spark joy to conjure a new Bhoomi book and appease her no-nonsense editor (Celia Imrie).

Drawing inspiration from the widowed cook (Omid Djalili) of her local diner, Mira initiates a one-way stream of consciousness to her late beau’s mobile device, blissfully unaware that the number has been randomly reassigned to Rob Burns (Heughan), music critic of the New York Chronicle.

Her heartfelt missives arrive as he is preparing for an interview with Celine Dion.

Rob also has a broken heart and he is deeply moved by the emotionally raw texts of a stranger and resolves to meet the mystery woman with the help of concerned co-workers Billy (Russell Tovey) and Lisa (Lydia West).

Love Again fails to seamlessly stitch together a meditation on grief and yearning with a preposterous rom-com.

Supporting characters are poorly served by the script and laughs are in disappointingly short supply.

PLAN 75 (15, 113 mins)

Released: May 12 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

Hayato Isomura stars as Hiromu Okabe in Plan 75

Writer-director Chie Hayakawa contemplates Japan’s ageing population in a provocative debut feature which is tethered to a fictional government-sanctioned programme of voluntary euthanasia for all citizens aged 75 and over.

Hiromu (Hayato Isomura) works for Plan 75 and he is one smiling face of an organisation that cajoles the elderly into willingly signing their own death warrants.

Every day, Hiromu casually dips his toes into murky moral waters until his uncle Yukio (Taka Takao) applies for Plan 75.

A crisis of conscience coincides with former hotel cleaner Michi (Chieko Baisho) also signing up for a personalised death package.

She is reluctant to accept unemployment benefits and would rather pass away quietly than become a burden.


Released: May 12 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

The Eight Mountains: Luca Marinelli as Pietro and Alessandro Borghi as Bruno

Best friends reconnect in the heart of the Italian countryside in a tender meditation on fraternal bonds written and directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch from the book The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti.

Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) lives in a forgotten mountain village, hopelessly devoted to his surroundings and a peaceful way of life.

Best friend Pietro (Luca Marinelli) lives in the city and sporadically visits the picturesque idyll but invariably returns to the bustling metropolis.

As they reflect on their childhoods, Bruno remembers himself as a boy connecting with a younger Pietro.

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.