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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > The Women

MOVIE REVIEWS

THE WOMEN (2008)

Starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman, Debi Mazar, Bette Midler, Joanna Gleason, Ana Gasteyer  and Candice Bergen.

Screenplay by Diane English.

Directed by Diane English.

Distributed by Picturehouse Films.  114 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

 

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The Women

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.

Now, 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.

With 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.

It jettisons the savage social commentary and class warfare which was the 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 empowerment.

As a 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.

Meg 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 her father handles.)  She also has a precocious pre-teen daughter who she is having trouble connecting with. 

She 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). 

When 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 upscale clientele

This 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. 

Many 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. 

I 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. 

Her 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? 

Whatever…. 

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. 

The 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 ever discuss.

They 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.

Yes 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 noticeable.) 

Here 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 right.

Dave Strohler

Copyright ©2008 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: December 11, 2008.

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Copyright ©2008   PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: December 11, 2008.

 

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