‘Book Club: The Next Chapter Review’: A good story with a sub-par ending

3 out of 4 stars

After being held virtually for a few years due to the pandemic, the “Book Club” is now meeting face to face. 

If was never a question of if the 2018 hit smash hit “Book Club,” would get a sequel after making more than $104 million at the worldwide box office off a $14 million budget.  

But when? The pandemic that basically ended in-person books clubs for more than a year provided the perfect bridge to the sequel “Book Club: The Next Chapter.” 

After having to hold their “Book Club” meeting virtually while the world was shut down, Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen), and Carol ( ) finally were able to resume their in-person gatherings where they spent more time discussing what’s going on in their lives than what they read. 

Now, the foursome is back and ready to make up for lost time.  

After reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” and seeing how E.L. James’ book awakened their sex lives in the first movie, the women realize they have one last chance to check off something they didn’t do decades ago: take a girls’ trip to Italy, which was on the books until Diane got pregnant. 

But now, they even have an excuse: Vivian, who takes pride in how many men she’s been with, is engaged.  

And what better place for a Bachelorette party than Italy? 

At first, the women come up with reasons why they can’t go, but Carol decides to use one of the books the group read – Paulo Coelho’s “Alchemist – to convince them it’s time to take the Book Club international. 

“The book says that we can’t reject our destiny,” Steenburgen says. “We might never have a chance to do something like this again.”

The women are off and it’s like they never left. They have impeccable chemistry, which makes their jokes funnier than they should be. They have perfect timing, as each one plays off each other wonderfully, allowing the film to flow smoothly and transition from one shenanigan to the next. 

While the scene where Vivian tries on wedding dresses isn’t as funny as the one in “Bridesmaids,” it does make the audience laugh.  

Bill Holderman, who made his directorial debut in “Book Club,” returns and the movie is better because of it. The cinematography of Italy provides the perfect backdrop for the women as they go from Rome to Venice and finally to Tuscany for the grand ending, which isn’t as grand as it could have been. 

What makes “Book Club: The Next Chapter” so well done is the audience could make a case that each Fonda, Bergen, Steenbergen and Keaton all play the lead character. But the audience could also make a case that none of them are because they share the spotlight. 

While each of the women in Italy has their own storyline – Vivian wants confirmation she is wife material; Sharon wants to be desired; Diane isn’t sure if she’ll fall in love again and Carol wants to be a more supportive wife – they are blended seamlessly during the 107-minute film. 

Since “Book Club” was one of the biggest surprises in 2018, expect the unexpected with its sequel, which came up just a better ending away from surpassing its predecessor. 

Still, “Book Club: The Next Chapter” couldn’t be positioned better to put up big box office numbers.  

The movie is certainly counting on filling theatres with an older audience – specifically women. That plays perfectly on a weekend in which no movie in theatres are aimed at that demographic.  

The film is competing against a movie about a boxer “Big George Foreman,” a video game franchise “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” a horror flick “Evil Dead Rise” and the Marvel movie “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”