Yes, there's a scene in Bill Holderman's Boomer-ensemble romcom Book Club where the perpetually promiscuous bachelorette Vivian (Jane Fonda) has to shut up and listen as her long lost beau Arthur (Don Johnson) delivers a movie-style confession of love with unabashed earnestness. In that moment, Holderman trains the camera just as much on Vivian as he does on Arthur, even though she's not saying a word. Vivian purses her lips, tries to look away, skittish as a pussycat caught digging through the trash. For a split second, as I watched Vivian watch Arthur, I suddenly recognized Fonda from her iconic performance in 1969's relentless, tearjerker classic They Shoot Horses, Don't They? And I mean "recognized" in that, for a breath, all the kitsch trappings of romcoms fell away and I was beholding the raw emotion that Fonda is capable of emitting.
That's a breathtaking ability, to channel such talent and experience into even humdrum scenes, something all four of Book Club's leads -- Fonda, Diane Keaton, Mary Steenburgen and Candice Bergen -- can do. Even though it follows the map of every romcom before it, Holderman's film still offers the too rare chance to marvel at just how good these women are at their craft, how easily they inhabit the bodies and lives of other people. Throwing all these actors together feels eerily like some kind of Avengers-type crossover. One hidden benefit of a film like this is that it gives hope to the under-35 crowd that a woman can play the lead in her own story for the entirety of her life. To get that beneficial message, you'll have to endure every character's requisite romcom epiphany speech, but it's still worth it.