BetteBack: Romping With The First Wive’s Club

Article from:The Cincinnati Post (Cincinnati, OH) Article date:September 19, 1996
Byline: Bob Campbell Newhouse News Service

Women over 50 don’t often get to kick up their heels in American movies. In ”The First Wives Club,” however, six of the nimblest half-century-old heels in Hollywood can be seen kicking all the way to the bank.

”There isn’t that much for older women,” Diane Keaton says in her lilting voice. ”So this is a great, amazing chance.”

She, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn cut loose with pratfalls and tears in this blissfully funny adaptation of Olivia Goldsmith‘s somewhat more somber fable about misused women getting even with the husbands who dumped them for younger women. Opening Friday, ”The First Wives Club” looks set for broad popular success.

Galvanized by the suicide of a college friend (an unbilled Stockard Channing) who’s been dumped by her Trump-ish husband, the film’s three heroines band together to punish their own faithless exes. They become heroines to Manhattan‘s divorcees.

The plot is clever, the dialogue (by playwright Robert Harling) scintillating. And the chemistry among the three stars is unmatched this side of the Bronte sisters. Ms. Keaton happily sums up the trio as ”The Three Stooges.”

Ms. Keaton and Ms. Midler, both in New York for interviews, agreed that it was the chance to do an all-out comedy that attracted them. It was the women who rebelled when director Hugh Hudson tried to shade the movie into a more solemn feminist statement.

”Hugh did his own draft that was closer to the book,” said Ms. Midler, rolling her eyes. ”But we wanted to do the Harling script. We wanted to do a romp.”

Ms. Keaton concurred: ”We wanted to cut loose in a farce and do some really ridiculous things.”

Notwithstanding their mutual star status, the three apparently were happy to share the screen. Ms. Midler considered the possibility that they might have felt more competitive a decade or two ago, when they were all in contention for leading-lady roles, but concluded:

”We’re grown-up now, and, anyway, we’re not men.”

”The First Wives Club” finds Ms. Midler in fine brash form as Brenda, whose garment-center husband (Dan Hedaya) has traded her in for a high-decibel bimbo (the hilarious Sarah Jessica Parker). Ms. Midler’s earthiness grounds the flightiness projected by her co-stars.

Ms. Keaton beautifully details the swirl of timid gentility and pent-up hysteria within the WASP-y Annie (as in Hall), who suffers the nastiest betrayal: Her dreamboat advertising-executive husband (Victor Garber) ditches her for their marriage counselor (Marcia Gay Harden).

The third of the film’s ”First Wives,” Ms. Hawn’s Elise is a new and improved version of her youth-fixated diva from ”Death Becomes Her.”

Elise is a movie star whose producer husband (Stephen Collins) climbed to success on her name, then threw her over for a sweet young ditz (Elizabeth Berkley, on the road to recovery from ”Showgirls”) who innocently suggests that Elise could play her mad mother in the ex’s new production.

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