BootLeg Betty

BetteBack Review September 20, 1996: ‘First Wives Club’ stirs up battle of sexes with humor

Garden City Telegram
September 20, 1996

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The battle between the sexes is unlikely to completely cool down after the thorough working over it gets in “The First Wives Club,” an over-the-top farce that pits dumped wives against philandering husbands.

With excellent performances from Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton, and a host of super-snappy one liners, it’s hard not
to have a good time for much of the movie.

But what might have been a truly great comedy is marred by a message that gets too heavy-handed and by a few truly ghastly cameo appearances near the end from Ivana Trump and Kathie Lee Gifford.

The film opens with a flashback to Graduation Day 1969 at a tony New England college. Brenda, Elise and Annie are giddy college girls with Gidget flips and Jackie O-style pumps. On the brink of heading out into what looks like glorious lives, they exchange matching
pearl necklaces and pledge to “be there” for each other for ever.

Fast forward about 20 years and — predictably — their privileged dream lives have begun to fall apart.

Elise (Hawn) has become a famous movie star, but also a lush and plastic surgery addict. For Elise, there are only three roles for women in Hollywood: “Babe, district attorney and Driving Miss Daisy

Meanwhile, her movie producer spouse, whom she helped to get into the business, is absorbed with his new “project,” the career of shapely Phoebe (Elizabeth Berkeley), while Elise is marked down to play the role of Phoebe’s mother.

Brenda (Midler), now a sensible housewife, is mourning the loss of her electronics-magnate husband Morty to mincing, stiletto-wearing bimbette Shelly (Sarah Jessica Parker).

Then there’s Annie (Keaton), a Connecticut mom in a suburban Martha Stewart home. She’s recently separated from her rakish ad executive husband and naively believes that as soon as they Finish working out their “issues,” they’ll get back together.

When the fourth membe r of their college gang (Stockard Channing) takes a swan dive off her sumptuous Fifth avenue apartment after her tycoon ex-husband remarrie s a twentysomething blonde, the roommates are reunited.

Over a boozy apres funeral lunch, the trio discover their common problems and spend several hilarious minutes dishing men and younger women.

Eventually, a plan is hatched — separate their wealthy husbands from their money and, by extension, their self-respect.

The project requires the help of Brenda’s designer boss (Bronson Pinchot) and Mafioso uncle (Philip Bosco), Annie’s lesbian daughter (Jennifer Dundas), wealthy socialite Gunilla Goldberg (Maggie Smith) and many implausible, but funny situations.

The three actresses perform throughout with tremendous comic flair and seem to be having the time of their lives.

Hawn, mugging, pouting, weeping and crowing, is in her element as the self-absorbed aging sex kitten.

Keaton has been appearing in comedies throughout her career, but she hasn’t really goofed it up quite like this since her days making movies with Woody Allen.

Midler deploys he r superb talents, and isn’t at all cramped by he r character’s dowdy wardrobe and lifestyle.

Director Hugh Wilson (“Police Academy” “Guarding Tess“) does a fine job with the glamorous Manhattan locations that serve as backdrops to the sparkling dialogue and slapstick humor.

Still, all is not as it should be with “The First Wives Club.”

The film begins to run out of ideas in the second half, and starts to become a little tiresome. After a while, it gets harde r to see a swanky Connecticut housewife and a fabulously rich actress as underdogs.

And socialite Goldberg is openly admired for acquiring her fabulous wealth from her four former husbands.

This funny movie does an excellent job of skewering the superficiality of its well-deserved targets, but comes a little too close itself to celebrating another kind of shallowness.

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