BetteBack Review September 20, 1996: First Wive’s Club – Siskel And Ebert

Cedar Rapids Gazette
September 20, 1996



The First Wives Club” is a creepy revenge comedy about three women who are dumped by their husbands. They don’t get mad, they get even. Well, they get mad, too.

The film opens in 1969, when four new college grads vow eternal friendship. They don’t stay in touch, however, and it takes the suicide of one to bring the others together.

All now are in their 40s.

There is Brenda (Bette Midler), who helped her husband build up a chain of electronics stores, only to be dumped for a young thing. Elise (Goldie Hawn), the actress, has fought age with plastic surgery. And Annie (Diane Keaton) deludes herself that her husband,
who runs an ad agency, is going to come back.

The story, based on a novel by Olivia Goldsmith, follows them as they grow increasingly disenchanted with men and join to pull scams and blackmails in order to get what is rightfully theirs – their husbands’ businesses.

Once you have this structure figured out, there’s not much more to think about in the movie, which alternates heartfelt talks with slapstick and sitcom situations.

Of the three main characters, Elise (Hawn) is the most fun. She has had some success in the movies, fears it is mostly behind her, and has a husband (Victor Garber) who got a ride to the top as a “producer” because he was married to her. Now he has a young bimbo and wants alimony and half their assets.

What’s best about the Hawn character is the forthright way the dialogue deals with her dilemma. The first time we see her, she’s begging her plastic surgeon for more collagen in her lips: “I want Tina Turner! Jagger! Fill ’em up!” Her first public appearance is at the funeral, wearing lips that look like they belong in neon above Times Square.

She denies to her friends that she’s had any plastic surgery at all, but finally admits, “I have been freshened up a little bit.”

Annie (Keaton) is being taken advantage of by her husband (Stephen Collins). Her daughter (Jennifer Dundas) announces early in the film that she’s a lesbian, which sets up an unlikely and forced visit by the three women to a lesbian bar.

Brenda (Midler) was some of the brains and a lot of the effort behind the success of the stores owned by her husband (Dan Hedaya), but “now that he’s a celebrity” (because he appears in his own TV ads), she’s been dumped, too. She functions as the most together
of the three friends, the planner and steadying influence.

The movie is heavy on incident but light on plot. And there’s a very protracted happy ending that goes on and on. There is undoubtedly a movie to be made about this material: a different movie.


“The First Wives Club” represents the dumbing down of a woman’s reasonable anger about being dumped by her husband for a younger partner.

Put veteran stars such as Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton into such an emotional plight and one could hope for a biting social comedy.

But American movies have gone soft, and what we get is basically coming attractions and TV ad material.

Oh, the stories Hawn, Midler and Keaton could tell about men. But we never get to hear them. Instead, it’s hi-jinks as they plot revenge, get the money and, in a throwaway scenario that seems totally insincere, set up a shelter for abused women.

By comparison, “Waiting to Exhale,” the uneven African American take on this situation, seems brave. (Tribune Media Services)

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