September 20, 1996
The First Wives Club is the perfect antidote for those exasperated by the wimp women of Surviving Picasso. Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler are a comedy dream team as aging first wives who don’t take rejection from their cheating, jerk-off husbands lying down. The movie, from the 1992 best seller by Olivia Goldsmith, isn’t deathless art. But as pure entertainment, this witty revenge romp is sinfully satisfying.
Elise (Hawn), Annie (Keaton) and Brenda (Midler) are former college chums who reunite at a friend’s funeral in Manhattan to commiserate over being dumped. Bill (Victor Garber in fine, sleazy fettle) has replaced self-indulgent Elise, an Oscar-winning actress, with a jailbait version of herself (Elizabeth Berkley, surviving the shame of Showgirls). Morty (Dan Hedaya) has traded in overweight Brenda for a leggy gold digger, expertly spoofed by Sarah Jessica Parker. And Aaron (Stephen Collins) has left naive Annie for, crime of crimes, her sex therapist (Marcia Gay Harden).
Director Hugh Wilson (Guarding Tess) zips the plot along, and screenwriter Robert Harling (Soap Dish), with uncredited help from the uncommonly funny Paul Rudnick (Jeffrey), laces the lines with bright malice. Snaps Midler to Parker, “The bulimia sure paid off.” The three stars have a ball dishing their characters and themselves. Midler’s outsize persona, Keaton’s ladi-da dithering and Hawn’s penchant for staying young are all juicily tweaked. Hawn hasn’t had it this good since Private Benjamin. Whether she’s begging for a collagen lip implant from her plastic surgeon (Rob Reiner) or slugging wine on the exercise machine she uses to diet off booze, Hawn is a firecracker.
These women are hard on their husbands (Ivana Trump herself shows up to advise: “Don’t get even, get everything”) but harder on themselves. What raises The First Wives Club above the male-bashing clichTs â€” some men and at least one marriage are actually redeemed â€” is the way these women rebuild their lives through their friendship. Cheers to all for tempering bile with humor and compassion. Sappy? Maybe. Also irresistible fun.