Blast from the Past: The First Wives Club

New Times
Blast from the Past: The First Wives Club
July 27, 2017


When? 1996

What’s it rated? PG

Where’s it available? DVDStreaming on Amazon and Hulu

When you think of a go-to pick-me-up movie, one filled with marital betrayal, vengeance, blackmail, and more shoulder pads than you can shake a stick at doesn’t seem to be a natural fit. Nonetheless, ever since I fished out The First Wives Club from a discount DVD bin as a tween, the movie has weirdly never failed to perk me up. I blame the underlying theme of feminism, comedic timing, and the weirdly charming use of the phrase “It’s the ’90s,” to justify everything from getting Botox to minimalism.

From director Hugh Wilson (Queen Of The Sun: What Are The Bees Telling Us?) and writer Robert Harling (Steel Magnolias, Laws of Attraction) comes a comedy with a knockout cast that includes Bette Midler (Hocus Pocus) as Brenda, Goldie Hawn (Overboard) as Elise, and Diane Keaton (Something’s Gotta Give) as Annie. The three women were all close in college, but over the past 20-something years have drifted apart. When their dear friend Cynthia (Stockard Channing) kills herself by jumping off her fancy New York City apartment building after her husband leaves her for a younger woman, the trio is brought together at her funeral and left wondering what went wrong in Cynthia’s life and their own.

After a few rounds of drinks, it’s revealed that Cynthia’s story hits a little to close to home for everyone. Annie’s marriage is currently on the rocks and she and her husband Aaron (Stephen Collins) are separated. Meanwhile movie star Elise has been left by her husband and producer Bill (Victor Garber) for the much younger actress Phoebe (Elizabeth Berkley). Similarly Brenda’s husband Morty (Dan Hedaya) a TV and electronics selling tycoon, went through a midlife crisis and left her for his vapid, ultra skinny, and yes much younger assistant Shelly (Sarah Jesscia Parker), leaving Brenda to raise their young son solo.

One by one, each woman realizes that they gave up a good chunk of their lives and sometimes even their own career ambitions, to support the men they loved and raise their families, only to be cruelly abandoned when they hit their mid-40s. Empowered by their newly strengthened friendship, Annie, Brenda, and Elise team up and map out ways to extract revenge against each of their ex-husbands. And before you think this is some man-haters film, there are plenty of awesome male characters like Brenda’s boss/gay BFF Duarto Feliz (Bronson Pinchot) and her uncle Carmine (Phillip Bosco) who actively support the female leads.

We always get oh so charming reminders of the female struggle to have it all through lines like, “You are married. You have a daughter. You don’t need self-esteem,” and, “You’re 46, a woman your age has a better chance of getting murdered by a psychopath [than meeting someone new],” both of which are delivered totally deadpan by Catherine (Eileen Heckart), Annie’s mom. At one point the song “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” by Eurythmics and Aretha Franklin plays during a getting-shit-done montage. The movie pokes at the all-too-real struggles women face, while also celebrating all we can do. Ivana Trump, the ex-wife of now President Donald Trump, makes an appearance toward the end of the movie, sagely reminding the ladies, “We have to be strong and independent. Don’t get mad, get everything.” (103 min.) ?

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