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No expiry date for love or pleasure

A poster for the film featuring the four actresses – Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, and Mary Steenburgen – laughing and talking at a dining table.

A few days ago, an older Twitter user shared about meeting a suitable man and her conversations with him on his political views. Reading her tweet, I felt happy that finally, older women were able to talk about dating and meeting people without fear of bigotry and judgment. Sadly, she had to take down her tweet because she received a lot of hate mail and was trolled by people mocking her for dating at ‘her age’. However, in another tweet, she said that this did not stop her from dating.

Book Club (2018) is a delightful film that explores the topic of sex and love for older women through the lives of four friends. It is unusual to find films that focus on older people, especially women, given our obsession with youth, ‘fit’ bodies and beautiful faces. Vivian (Jane Fonda), Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen) have bonded for forty years over books that they have discussed in their book club and shared their life’s challenges and successes.

Vivian is a successful hotelier who has never married but loves to be with men. She enjoys her independence which men find sexy, and has many sexual partners but says she can never sleep with a man by her side. She believes that she is successful because she does not need anyone, especially a man. Diane is a recent widow who was married to an accountant. She has two daughters who think she cannot take care of herself and want her to move to Arizona so that they can keep an eye on her. She has a fear of flying which was the title of the first book discussed in the club and which set the tone for her throughout her life – always cautious and afraid to assert her independence. Sharon is a federal judge who divorced her husband 18 years ago and has never had a relationship or sex since then. She is a high achiever, was one of 62 women in her law class of 301 students and the only woman who became a judge. Carol, a celebrated chef and restaurateur, is happily married to Bruce, the man of her dreams, who has recently retired.

When Vivian picks Fifty Shades of Grey as her choice for the book club, she is met with mixed reactions − disbelief, shock, and excitement. Vivian reminds her friends that when it is their turn, they can pick a boring and depressing book. As they start reading, the four friends begin to examine their personal lives and relationships.

Vivian bumps into an old boyfriend Arthur whose marriage proposal she rejected 40 years ago. He is in town on business and wants to rekindle the old flame. Vivian is reluctant to open her heart and let him in as she believes that emotional connections are over-rated. But over a period of time she invites him to her rooftop safe space and whilst they are talking, she falls asleep in his arms.

Diane is confused because she loves her daughters, wants her independence, and does not want to upset them by refusing their offer to move in with them in Arizona. But she finds their protective gestures very claustrophobic. On a flight to Arizona, she meets Mitchell a pilot who finds her nervousness due to her fear of flying endearing. He invites her out and she begins to enjoy his company.

Sharon is stimulated by the book and creates an online dating profile which is a big personal risk for her and takes her out of her comfort zone. Her first date is with an accountant similar to her in age and they have a great evening talking. They end up having sex in the back of the car which is probably the riskiest thing they have done in a long while. However, Sharon is embarrassed when on her second date with a doctor, she meets her ex-husband who is with his fiancée, a younger woman. She feels self-conscious about her body and her date and decides to deactivate her dating profile. It unnerves her that her husband is dating someone at 67 and having sex.

Throughout the movie, the four characters share vulnerabilities regarding their bodies, self-esteem and independence. Each of them is dealing with her own issues. Sharon who has not had sex for 18 years believes that if women her age were meant to be having sex then “God would not do what he does” to their bodies. She is not very comfortable with how her body looks now and the idea of “getting laid” is quite alien to her unlike her husband who is clearly sexually active. Diane too, who has not been with anyone other than her husband, states she is not interested in sex which in her past experience was not exciting. But Vivian refuses to believe them and says she will not allow them to stop living before they stop living.

Vivian helps Sharon feel good about her body by helping her buy inner garments that would support and shape her body better. All of them envy Vivian’s body which is conventionally beautiful but aided by cosmetic surgery. Carol who has until recently had a good sexual relationship with her husband Bruce is worried as to why he is not interested in her anymore. She enrols them in a dance class but he hates it and storms out. She tries putting Viagra into his drink on their anniversary and that is met with disastrous, albeit funny, results. Diane is afraid to fall in love and have a relationship lest her daughters pass judgment on her.

All four brilliant actresses handle the topic of love, sex and ageing with humour, grace and beauty. Reading Fifty Shades of Grey makes them realise that there is much to explore in the area of sexuality and sex. Even though initially they are afraid to engage with the topic thinking they are too old, they convince themselves that it is after all a book for mature audiences. They are fascinated by the various sexual acts described in the book but are even more intrigued that the woman was having fun whilst having sex. The book inspires them to be more adventurous. Subsequently, they read the next two books in the series as well.

We need more films like this that normalise relationships and sex for older people, especially women. It is ridiculous that we accept older men having relationships with younger women or women their own age but we are not accepting of women doing the same. Brigitte Macron is 24 years older than her husband Emmanuel Macron who received a lot of flak for their relationship on account of this age difference whilst at the same time Donald Trump was celebrated for his relationship with Melania who is 24 years younger than him! Women have needs too − emotional, physical and sexual. A woman has the right to be herself, find pleasure in people and things at any age and explore what gives her joy.

Women often have to put on a facade to face patriarchy in their lives and at work. They either suppress their desires and emotions like Sharon and Diane to be efficient and professional at home and work or have to create a persona with sleek bodies like Vivian in order to appear attractive and successful. As one ages and situations change – divorce, retirement or death of a spouse, one struggles to learn how to play the social game all over again, attracting someone from the opposite sex and choosing whether they will have relationships go deeper or not. Sometimes it is at an older age when women might actually find the time and/or space to explore their needs, bodies, emotions and desires. Either way they are at risk of being judged by the people around them including their families and friends. Further, after having worked hard for several decades to establish themselves and their careers, it takes a great effort to relax and have fun, break social norms by having casual sex, or fall in love later in life (which might be a new thing for them).

This film reminds us there is no expiry date for love or pleasure and there is no one type of relationship. What is important is that we keep an open mind and do what makes us happy.

Cover Image: Amazon