‘The Women’ gets pleasing makeover
September 12, 2008
What a pleasure this movie is, showcasing actresses Ive admired for a long time, all at the top of their form. Yes, theyre older now, as are we all, but they look great and know what theyre doing. The Women is not, as it claims, based on the play by Clare Booth Luce. The credits should read, inspired by. Nor does it draw from the screenplay of the 1939 film, although it also has no males on the screen.The film revolves around four close friends, one married with four kids, one married with one kid but being cheated on, one a high-profile professional woman, one a lesbian. Sound a little familiar? But these woman are wiser, funnier and more articulate than the SATC team, and their lives are not as shallow. Maybe it helps that there arent a lot of men hanging around and chewing up screen time. There are two husbands and a boss, but we only hear this end of the telephone conversations.The movie is a comedy, after all, and were not looking for deep insights, but writer-director Diane English (one of the creative forces behind Murphy Brown”) focuses on story and character, and even in a movie that sometimes plays like an infomercial for Saks Fifth Avenue, we find ourselves intrigued by these women.Meg Ryan and Annette Bening get top billing as Mary, the wife of a Wall Street millionaire, and Sylvie, editor of a fashion magazine. Theyve long been best friends, but complications involving Marys husband and Sylvies job drive them apart. Then Sylvie, who has never been a mother, finds herself acting as one for Marys precocious daughter Molly (India Ennenga). A scene where she gives the young girl direct, honest advice about sex is one of the best in the movie. And theres another striking scene when Marys own mother (Candice Bergen) gives her brutally frank advice about how to deal with a cheating husband.Debra Messing, from Will & Grace, plays Edie, the mother of four. And (spoiler) I will have to reveal that she gives birth to a fifth, in order to observe that she finds a way to distinguish the obligatory childbirth scene. She does some screaming that, in its own way, equals Meg Ryans famous restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally. As for the fourth friend, Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith), shes a lesbian and, well, thats about it. She does what she can with the role, but theres not much to do. Her current lover, a supermodel, is introduced for a few pouts and hustled off-screen. In one scene with peculiar staging, Alex walks down a sidewalk behind Mary and Sylvie and never has one word of dialogue. Whats with that?Theres strong comedic acting in some of the supporting roles, including Cloris Leachman as Marys housekeeper, Eva Mendes as the bombshell spritzer girl at the Saks perfume counter, Bette Midler as a jolly Hollywood agent, and Debi Mazar as a talkative manicure girl from Long Island. Carrie Fisher gets points for playing her entire scene while furiously pumping a workout machine.The Women isnt a great movie, but how could it be? Too many characters and too much melodrama for that, and the comedy has to be somewhat muted to make the characters semi-believable. But as a well-crafted, well-written and well-acted entertainment, it drew me in and got its job done. Did I say that there are no males at all in the movie? True, except for one shot.
The Women Picturehouse presents a film written and directed by Diane English, based on the play by Clare Booth Luce. Running time: 114 minutes. Classified: PG-13 (for sex-related material, language, some drug use and brief smoking). Rated: Three stars.
Philip KennicottThe Washington PostSince the days of Aristophanes, it has been comedy gold to watch women plotting and scheming out of sight of their menfolk. Yet The Women, a remake of George Cukors sparkling 1939 all-female comedy set in New York City, falls flat at every turn. Given its cast, which includes Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Cloris Leachman and Bette Midler, this is nothing short of amazing. Where did the laughs go?Theyve been dying slowly ever since the original of this franchise, Clare Boothe Luces The Women, opened on Broadway in 1936. Luces play, about a mild-mannered society woman who must learn to fight for her husbands fidelity, was a stew of cruel one-liners, delivered by women against women.Women have come a long way since then, and its rather perverse of director Diane English to restage this brawl among the shards of so many shattered glass ceilings.In short, the world of Luce and Cukor has mostly disappeared. So how do you restage a 1930s comedy of manners in contemporary terms? You strip out the context, eliminate the social history and borrow all your humor from Sex and the City.In the end, English just wants to make a nice chick flick with some sassy lines. Genuine nastiness has been eliminated, while not-very-funny banter is retained.