Hey, Hollywood! Need Ideas for a 'Book Club' Sequel? (Guest Column)
With so few films focused on women over 50, best-selling author Annabelle Gurwitch suggests Paramount spin Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton's $50 million-and-counting buddy movie into a franchise.
All eyes in the film industry are on Ocean's 8 and its opening this weekend: Can a gender-bending take on a beloved franchise become a female franchise of its own? Meanwhile, there's another woman-powered film ripe for franchise treatment right under Hollywood's nose.
Despite opening to reviews ranging from tepid to terrible, Book Club is making a solid box-office showing for Paramount, having grossed over $50 million so far and — after expanding to more theaters each weekend since its release — scoring the same box-office haul in its third weekend as in its first, a rare feat. As a member of their target audience, I applaud any filmmakers who aren't phoning in predictable serialized franchises. Actually, given the paucity of films targeting — or even acknowledging — women over 50, I'd like Book Club to become a predictable serialized franchise.
Oh, the possibilities abound. There's the prequel, where the club reads Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, interspersed with classic footage of the four icons from the 1970s. There's Book Club X: A Place for Mom in which the club reads Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, then moves into a retirement home, and that's when the fun really begins.
I just wish the movie had been a bit more risque, and at the same time, realistic. Currently, 12 percent of the roles in major motion pictures are written for characters over the age of 60, and I'd be willing to bet that of the only one woman per every three and a half men seen onscreen in that age range, half of them are wearing a babushka. So a film like Book Club can have outsized influence on how women of a certain age are perceived.
In hopes of a sequel in the works, I've taken the liberty of suggesting a few storylines.
Diane Keaton and Andy Garcia enjoy a hilarious post-wedding romp as he attempts to navigate the many layers of her Annie Hall wardrobe. Afterward, Garcia gives her that house tour he'd neglected, culminating in the basement, where he will dismember her because he was too good to be true. Yep, he's a grifter who marries aging women, fleeces and then offs them. "Never go home with someone you meet in coach," he admonishes — alas, too late! Diane dashes off a text to the club members: "At least I didn't end up living in my daughter's basement." Instead of reading at the next meetup, they toast to Diane's memory as they revise their wills and advance medical directives.
Candice Bergen becomes a dominatrix, specializing in clients who want to be punished while being drilled on tort law precedent. She falls for a client who enjoys having hot liquids poured on him, safe words: Leibeck v McDonald's. Bergen brings An Untamed State by Roxane Gay to the next book club, mistaking it for sexy romp. Hilarity ensues as the women realize their mistake, but upon learning about corruption in male-led totalitarian governments, and seeing parallels in current U.S. politics, they get matching topple the patrcarchy tattoos. Cameo by Jill Soloway as tattoo artist.
After Don Johnson puts in another sleepless night on arm-tickling duty, Jane Fonda agrees to shack up with him. Having won her back, Johnson pulls out his sleep apnea machine and places the mask over his face, "I'm exhausted, Slim. Gotta get some shut-eye." Jane looks deeply into his baby blues and says, "Thanks, pal, but I didn't sign up for this." Hilarious montage sequence as Jane auditions tickle boys for hire. Cameos by Zac Efron, Paul Dano and William Jackson Harper. Jane brings Spinster by Kate Bolick to the next book club. The clubbers all take vows of chastity.
Mary Steenburgen and Criag T. Nelson enjoy a short-lived romantic rekindling after her spiking his beer with Viagra but fall back into a sexless marriage. Mary whips up a tete-a-tete for sad-sack Nelson but, oops, accidentally prepares the fugu, the poisonous blowfish, incorrectly, leaving her free to enter into a torrid love affair with her exotic dance instructor. Mary and her gal pal discover lesbian bed death, so she picks 50 Shades of Pink, a gay bodice ripper, by KT Grant, for the next read. Hilarious montage of clubbers' reactions — is their curiosity piqued? We'll find out in Book Club 3: Playing for the Other Team.
The club reads 50 Shades Darker and decides to track down EL James for committing crimes against grammar, logic, literacy and female empowerment. After standard revenge movie hilarious hijinx, they force James to eat her most offending sentences, like, "My subconscious looks on with approval, her normally pursed mouth smiling, and I am the supreme puppet master." Authorities decline to press charges, as it was only a matter of time. The ladies add another member, Oprah, to the club. She selects Samantha Irby's Meaty. The film ends with a celebratory bonfire at which the ladies gorge on tacos and beer and cast their Spanx into the flames.
Annabelle Gurwitch is a New York Times best-selling author who is currently adapting her latest book, Wherever You Go, There They Are, for David Janollari Entertainment at Universal TV.