The Women is a
pretty legendary stalled project in Hollywood. For well over a decade they
tried to get this remake of the classic 1939 screwball comedy made, but
somehow it never quite happened. The script was by TV exec Diane English
(best-known as the creator of the sitcom Murphy Brown). Nearly every
well-known actress with a SAG card was connected to this film
at some point during the
1990s, including Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Holly Hunter,
Whitney Houston, Marisa Tomei, Helen Hunt and Meg Ryan. Yet the project
kept stalling out, getting put on the back burner so many times that it
essentially became a show biz joke.
years later, it comes out with little fanfare – and with a cast of
significantly less star power, mostly made up of actresses on the downside
of their career, including the aforementioned Meg Ryan, with Annette Bening,
Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler, Carrie
Fisher and Candice Bergen.
the release of The Women, the question isn’t so much why did it take
so long to make this movie as it is why did anyone bother to do it now? The
new version has much more in common with Sex and the City (and we’re
talking the sappy movie, not the savvy series)
than the classic 1939 comedy or the Claire Booth Luce play which it was
based upon. This is not a good thing.
raison d’etre for the original – making a movie that is almost 70 years
old feel more cutting edge and biting than its current incarnation. The
women here may have careers and social lives and philanthropic pursuits –
but they are still pretty much defined by the men in their lives, be it
husbands, boyfriends, fathers or bosses. This is not good either,
particularly for a film which seems to be trying to make a point on feminine
jettisons the savage social commentary and class warfare which was the
screenwriter and director, English displays less grasp of realism and story
arc than she did as a sitcom writer – in fact the whole thing feels like a
not particularly good but very long sitcom. This is also not a good thing.
Ryan plays Mary, an unhappy-yet-eternally-perky rich suburban housewife who
has an unfulfilling job as a clothing designer in her father’s business.
(She would rather be designing fashion than the very basic designs
father handles.) She also has a precocious pre-teen daughter who she is
having trouble connecting with.
has a group of clichéd friends, the hardened-but-insecure aging publishing
exec (Bening), the serially pregnant friend (Messing) and the lipstick
lesbian (Pinkett Smith).
her friends find out that Mary’s husband is having an affair with “the
perfume spritzer” in Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, they try to protect her
from the news. They learn this little nugget in a horribly coincidental
scene from a spectacularly indiscreet manicurist – the same person who
eventually spills the beans to Mary herself. It’s a shock that a woman this
stupid or thoughtless would be able to get a job anywhere, much less one of
the most famous stores in the world, which relies on its
leads to lots of soul-searching, much sappy emoting, an unnecessary birth
scene and lots and lots of catty (but oddly defanged) banter. There are
also an awful lot of plastic surgery jokes, which gets a little awkward
because Ryan looks like someone inflated a raft in her lips.
of those gags are made by her mom – played by Candice Bergen.
Of course, we hit the point where mom
the anti-surgery cheerleader, shows herself to be a
hypocrite by getting a full makeover. Though Bergen
– like everyone else here – is given a lot of awful dialogue and situations
to play, at least she is the only person who really pulls it off with any
kind of panache. You know things are going poorly when Candice Bergen is
the most accomplished actress in the film. I love her but she could hardly
be called a great thespian. In fact, her awkward
line readings are part of her charm.
Eventually, though, Mary has a journey of self. You can tell Mary has grown
and changed because she straightens out her awful perm to a chic straight
‘do, she shares a doobie with a near stranger and she starts her own fashion
line – using her mother’s money to fund the whole thing.
suppose it is in some strange way a victory of feminism, instead of living
off her father’s business, she is living off her mother’s money – but doing
it her way.
newfound independence also makes her enticing and attractive to her
ex-husband, who starts sniffing around again. But can she ever find it in
her heart to forgive him and will she ever be able to trust him again?
The Women has
one little gimmick which makes it novel – the one way that this film is
slavishly faithful to the original version. There is not a single man in
the film. No matter where the stars go or what they do, there are only
women in the shot.
problem is, eventually the total lack of men in this world gets rather
distracting. Here there are no waiters, no mechanics, no weathermen, no
parking lot attendants, no men walking down the streets. They don’t even
have any sons. It sort of makes you wonder how anyone in The Women
gets a jar open.
Eventually, in a scene where you watch women eavesdropping and commenting on
an argument between Mary and her husband, where you hear his muffled voice
but again don’t see him, the whole thing gets kind of annoying. They are
bending over backwards to avoid showing half of the population of the world
– and yet the men who aren’t there are just about the only thing these women
finally show a male in the final shot – in a scene which is supposed to be
touching and transcendent, but is actually rather trite and horribly
predictable. In fact, while making Murphy Brown, English wrote a
scene in one of the most famous episodes of that series which was shockingly
similar to the scene which leads up to this reveal.
it is a good thing to make a movie in which the women are the main
characters and the whole thrust behind the story. However, it's delusional
to act like there are no men there. It may have even worked in the original
because the film was spending more time in places where women congregated in
an old-fashioned society which has long since disappeared (at least I don’t remember
the lack of men being quite so
it feels like a stunt – a way to make a wholly unoriginal film stand out in
some little way. It may be unique, but that doesn’t make it interesting or
Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: December 11, 2008.