Monday 14 October 2019

Movie reviews: Book Club, Ismael's Ghosts, That Summer

  • Book Club  (15A, 104mins) - 2 stars
  • Ismael's Ghosts (No Cert, IFI, 118mins) - 3 stars
  • That Summer  (No Cert, IFI, 80mins) - 4 stars
Page burner: Top cast can’t save Book Club
Page burner: Top cast can’t save Book Club
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

In Book Club, a bunch of fine actresses in search of a better film pass the time reading. Diane (Diane Keaton), Vivian (Jane Fonda), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) have been meeting to discuss the books they've read since way back in the mid-1970s.

They started out with Erica Jong's liberating feminist classic Fear of Flying, and their latest book club project is Fifty Shades of Grey, a bit of a comedown in literary terms but the ladies end up enjoying it all hugely.

As they sit around quaffing Californian Chardonnay (these gals get through the stuff by the gallon), the book's racy subject matter inspires them to air their concerns about their love lives. Ought older ladies be worrying about this stuff at all, they wonder? Certainly, Vivian reckons; she's free and single but yearns for more than casual hook-ups. Diane would welcome any action, but her two grown-up daughters insist on meddling in her personal life; Sharon has given up on romance altogether; and Carol worries that the spark has gone out of her marriage.

They will all find variously mortifying ways to correct their sexual deficits, none of them especially amusing. That Book Club is watchable at all is entirely down to the comic expertise of Keaton and Co - who manage to find laughs where none have been written.

I have greatly enjoyed the witty melodramas French writer/director Arnaud Desplechin has created, particularly his 2008 comic drama Un Conte de Noel. But in Ismael's Ghosts he blends Hitchcock and high literature to create a film that irritates more often than it amuses. Desplechin regular Mathieu Amalric is Ismael Vuillard, a histrionic film director who drinks too much.

He's haunted by the disappearance of his young wife Carlotta 20 years previously: she's presumed dead. Still, life goes on, and Ismael has been happily dating Silvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a pretty and slightly melancholy astrophysicist. They're taking a break in his coastal holiday home when Silvia is approached on the beach by a dreamy-eyed woman (Marion Cotillard) who claims to be Carlotta. She is Carlotta! But where has she come from, why did she make no contact, and what does she want with Ismael now?

It's all bad news for Silvia: even an astrophysicist is no match for a ghost, certainly not one as glamorous as Ms Cotillard. Ismael's Ghosts comes laden down with cloying literary references: Carlotta's surname is Bloom, and King Lear gets a clumsy mention. It all adds to the manufactured artificiality of a film that's all surface. Amalric's performance sails wildly over the top at times, and though Cotillard is good enough to make practically any character compelling, even she is toiling for a lost cause.

Albert and David Maysles' 1975 film Grey Gardens is among the most beloved documentaries ever made. With great discretion and a studious lack of judgement, Grey Gardens lifted the lid on the strange lives of Edith Bouvier Beale and her daughter Little Edie, who lived for decades in splendid squalor in a crumbling home in the Hamptons.

'Big Edie' was Jackie Kennedy's aunt, Little Edie her cousin, and their clipped aristocratic drawls made their impecuniousness all the more improbable.

It's a great film, but before it was ever made, Jackie's sister Lee Radziwill attempted to film a documentary of her own about the Bouvier Beales. That Summer is assembled from its remnants, and is accompanied by the recollections of photographer Peter Beard, Radziwill's collaborator and friend.

Are the two Edies tragic, or magnificent? Rats run through their litter-strewn mansion, and their rich Hamptons neighbours are clearly horrified, but there's a grandeur to the way they pick their way through the trash, seeing around them not a kip, perhaps, but a palace.

Also releasing this week: My Friend Dahmer movie review: 'A startling insight into the formative years of a monster'

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