Sure, we laughed. How could we not with Diane Keaton doing a riff on her endearing Annie Hall shtick and Candice Bergen’s expressive eyes telegraphing her true feelings while her beautiful face maintains its composure? The other two leads didn’t have much to work with. Jane Fonda's powerhouse talent, in particular, was not needed to play this character, who is pretty much a Barbie with brains. Mary Steenburgen’s character is so fired up by Fifty Shades that she slips Viagra into her husband’s beer. My friend and I were so horrified that a wife would drug her own husband without his knowledge or consent that we were yanked completely out of the story. Just because a woman turns the tables doesn’t make drugging a person OK, and it especially doesn’t make it funny despite (because of?) the husband's unnatural tumescence.
Craig T. Nelson plays Steenburgen’s husband. He dug in deep to play a recently retired man trying to figure out who he is. Andy Garcia, Keaton’s love interest, played a pilot rightfully charmed by her. Don Johnson played a gent with whom I'd certainly take a long walk on a beach. The male characters in this movie, generally speaking, are appealing human beings. The settings are California gorgeous, and everybody in this movie has plenty of money.
Unfortunately, the screenwriters (Erin Simms and Bill Holderman) laboriously place ridiculous obstacles in front of our heroines’ slog to romantic fulfillment: obstructive daughters who treat Keaton like she’s about to go into a nursing home (I whispered to my friend, “If my kid treated me like that, I’d tell him to take a hike”); Fonda’s unwillingness to accept true love lest it break her comfy routine of sex-without-strings (and her subsequent weep fest after she rejects her lover?—puh-lease!); Bergen’s slacking off on her job as a federal judge because she’s busy with a dating app (really?); Steenburgen’s increasingly (and embarrassingly) desperate attempts to get her husband “in the mood.”
What bothered us most of all was the screenwriters’ basic premise that no woman of any age is complete without a man. Once the characters started reading Fifty Shades of Grey, even their decades-long friendship orbits the book like sad little satellites unable to escape its gravity. They seem not to be interested in anything else in their lives—not being a judge, running a hotel, maintaining a healthy marriage, adjusting to a death. Naturally, in this world, events in the wider world do not exist.
Worse, the screenwriters suggest that the characters shouldn’t have cared about any of those things in the first place because sex is Ground Zero, The Be All And End All Of life, Where It’s At, apparently the message of Fifty Shades of Grey as well. OK, OK—I’m here because of sex, and so are you, and so is my son, but is that all there is? Gotta say no.
My friend and I decided this movie is like a fancy dessert that's delightful to try, but it’s not something you want to eat every day. Please pass the meat and potatoes.