The city of women
A modern remake that seems retrograde
By Steffen Silvis
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
November 12th, 2008
Bitchery is a fine art and, whether we admit it or not, we are all appreciators of the craft, if not avid collectors and connoisseurs. This is perhaps best evinced by the latest gossip spilling forth from the defunct McCain campaign on the fevered shopping sprees of Sarah Palin, who, we’re told in delicious detail, sacked Saks to clothe herself and her chillbilly clan, as if she’d just won a state lottery.
Paleontologists will tell you that such viciousness is primarily class-based, and they are generally right. Baudelaire said that it is the writer’s task to “perfect the language of the tribe.” It is the gossip’s, perhaps, to merely perfect the tribe generally.
The scathing comedy of Clare Boothe Luce’s ’30s Broadway hit, The Women, is steeped in class. Idle wives of the rich routinely take knives to each other as sport. But, when a common perfume counter clerk steals the heart of one of these women’s husbands, well-manicured nails are filed and polished with Jungle Red.
Interestingly, the lowly scented temptress in the play, Crystal Allen, had Luce’s sympathy. But, on film, Crystal became more of a calculating gold digger, first as portrayed by Joan Crawford in the 1939 MGM version of the play, and then by Joan Collins in the forgettable ’50s musical version, The Opposite Sex. In the newest screen version, she’s simply a pneumatic cartoon.
Director and writer Diane English, best known for creating the American TV show Murphy Brown, long wanted to remake and update The Women. Over the years, she assembled various star casts for the project, but never was able to move further.
The idea was to out-star the original George Cukor production, which rounded up every female star on the MGM lot except Garbo and Lassie: Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Marjorie Main, Joan Fontaine, Mary Boland and even Butterfly McQueen in her first role.
The Opposite Sex corralled Collins with June Allison, Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller, Agnes Moorehead and the excellent Dolores Gray (the only reason to see the film). There were even plans in the ’70s to put together a version with Jane Fonda, Barbra Streisand and Faye Dunaway, which sounds like one of those great missed opportunities.
At various times having Julia Roberts, Uma Thurman, Sandra Bullock, Queen Latifah and Marisa Tomei interested in the project, English finally put together her stellar cast: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler and Carrie Fisher – to name just a few. With such women, you would expect sparks to fly, as certainly happened at MGM in 1939. But it never happens.
In placing the action in a contemporary setting, English found some clever ways of correcting some of the now rather dated lives of her women. The ladies who once luncheoned all have careers. Even the spinsterish writer Nancy Blake (a send-up of Edna Ferber) has become lesbian novelist Alex Fisher.
Strangely, though, even with such updating, English’s Women seems less modern than Cukor’s version. This is primarily due to English wanting to steer clear from what might now appear as a sexist appraisal of female relationships (even if penned by a woman).
Cukor’s Women were wholly individual, hardly in need of roving about Manhattan’s streets as gangs of girlfriends or needing to depend upon the kindness of their fellow sisters to survive. It was every woman for herself, and good luck leaving the room with your dress still in one piece, dear.
English’s Women are feminists first and, even if they haven’t quite fully mastered bonding together, there’s the imperative to do so. And so the few of Luce’s tongue-lashing lines (with screenplay touches added by Anita Loos and F. Scott Fitzgerald, of all people) that survived have less snap. The dialogue is the difference between a fast-paced, character-driven screwball comedy and a sitcom crammed with one-liners, not to mention a cloying sentimentality. Mostly, though, English’s stale film is Sex and the City redux.
That’s not to say there aren’t some saving moments. Annette Bening’s Sylvia Fowler (played hilariously over-the-top by Rosalind Russell) is the film’s greatest asset. Although more hardened than Russell (who could only be described as a smiling adder), Bening nonetheless commands the film with her dry, wicked humor.
As in Cukor’s film, some of the greatest comedy is generated by the supporting cast. Murphy Brown herself, Candice Bergen, plays the wise mother to the jilted Mary Haines (Shearer’s role, played here by Meg Ryan). Bergen also has some of the best lines: “Don’t be bitter. It leads to Botox.” Bette Midler is also wonderful in her brief role, the equivalent to Mary Boland’s Countess.
But the larger roles lack the power to generate the heat that existed between Shearer’s Mary and Crawford’s Crystal. Their confrontations onscreen can still provoke gasps. Meg Ryan, a bit past her sell-by date as the “kooky blonde,” hasn’t Shearer’s stature. And poor Eva Mendes, who actually is talented, is reduced to posing in positions where she doesn’t quite bust out of her straining garments.
This again points up the odd retrograde feel of this newest film. Crawford’s conniving Crystal is never less than human. Mendes is merely playing a sex kitten wardrobe decision.
Undoubtedly, some women might find more to like in the latest The Women. But bitchery has really seen better days.
Steffen Silvis can be reached at email@example.com
Same Same Australia
Film – The Women – Hopscotch Films
Reviews, By shivana, 23rd October, 2008
At the core of The Women is exactly that ”“ women. It’s an all female cast, the film examines the relationships and sensibilities of those women and while some men’s eyes might be rolling into the back of their heads, let me assure you, this film is great!
The screenplay whisks us into the busy world of Manhattan and furthermore the lives of six women and how they intertwine. We meet Mary (Meg Ryan) ”“ a seemingly faultless upper middle class modern woman, and her group of friends. Upon discovering her husband’s indiscretions with Crystal (Eva Mendes), Mary has to deal with her friends’ expectations , a young rebellious daughter and a yearning that has been forgotten. And as she deals with these issues, the importance of female relationships is revealed.
On the surface, The Women could be seen as a simple chick flick, however there’s real depth in these characters, and the film manages to be moving, meaningful and also very funny. And with a cast including Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler and Candice Bergen, how can you go wrong?
Director/ Writer Diane English ( Murphy Brown writer/producer) has transformed George Cukor’s 1939 film The Women into a beautiful depiction of the lives of modern women. At the heart of this production is the authenticity and the power shown in the relationships between women; the mother, the daughter, the wife, the workaholic, and through these women we’re asked to take a look at our own lives.
Throughout The Women I couldn’t help but be reminded of Diane Keaton and Bette Midler’s hilarious film The First Wives Club. The two films share plenty of similarities ”“ the cheating husbands, the bond between best friends”¦ It even comes with its own token lesbian character.
Annette Bening shines as Sylvi, Mary’s best friend, a workaholic magazine editor who stops at nothing to succeed. She’s thoroughly absorbing. Her acting is just flawless.
Meg Ryan shares the other leading role and does so brilliantly. This is the best role she’s had in a long time, and she’s got some brilliant laugh-out-loud moments. Look out for one of the highlights of the entire movie ”“ when Mary (Meg Ryan) meets her husband’s mistress Crystal (Eva Mendes) in a lingerie change room. Need I say more?
I loved it. I can’t wait to arrange a date to go and watch it again. And I’m so buying the DVD when it comes out. Sure, there are plenty of clichÃ©s, and a touch of Hollywood formula, but you’ll leave the cinema feeling good. I’ve missed seeing films like this on the big screen. I’m glad they are making a comeback. And I’m glad Meg Ryan is too!
Posted on Fri, Sep. 12, 2008
‘The Women’ of today: Softer
By Carrie Rickey
Philadelphia Inquirer Film Critic
In 1936 when The Women bounded onto Broadway, Clare Boothe Luce’s merciless suggestion that the parlors of Park Avenue are kennels for female dogs struck one observer as so acidic that it “could turn litmus paper pink.”
For Luce, as for Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, who adapted the gossip-girl comedy into the 1939 film classic, the idea of “female friendship” was practically an oxymoron.
Not so Diane English’s intermittently amusing update starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening and Jada Pinkett Smith, acid-balanced as a salon shampoo.
In English’s version, fidelity among friends is as important – perhaps more so – than that between spouses. So, instead of characterizing its central figure, Mary Haines (Ryan), as an innocent pup amid the attack canines, English takes the more optimistic view that even rabid middle-aged dogs can learn new tricks – like obedience to friends.
Nice message, if one with considerably less bite than the source material. English has taken Luce’s insight that for women, friendship can be a lethal weapon, and blunted it in the warm bath of self-help.
And because Luce’s account of how women behave in men-free zones prefigured Sex and the City, that effervescent TV and movie phenom also makes English’s remix seem a tad flat. Maybe it’s the watered-down, sitcommy direction (this marks the directorial debut of English, creator of Murphy Brown) that dilutes this cocktail’s fizz.
The distinction between the upscale milieus of SATC and The Women may seem subtle. But in their niche universes, SATC is an edgy 35, drinks Mojitos, reads Vogue, and shops Bergdorfs; The Women is a centered 48, sips martinis, rips into O, and haunts Saks.
It is fair to say that Saks is to The Women what the Sistine Chapel is to The Agony and the Ecstasy – a sacred place for prayer, communion and confession.
At the salon of the Fifth Avenue fashion emporium, married Mary (Ryan, tossing her ringlets like a bowl of fusilli) learns from a chatty manicurist that her husband, Steven, is dallying with sultry Saks perfume spritzer Crystal (Eva Mendes).
Her friends, Sylvie (Bening), a magazine editor; Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith), a novelist; and Edie (Debra Messing), an earthy mama, already have heard the news.
As Mary’s sharp-tongued pals deliberate how to break it to her, they can’t help but savor this juicy morsel of ill fortune. A fashion designer with a Connecticut estate, adorable daughter and Wall Street spouse, Mary has the Olympian life they all wanted but, being mere mortals, never got.
If her gal pals aren’t happy, exactly, at the prospect of Mary’s humiliation, they are secretly pleased that in her misery she is rendered mortal like them. And when Mary finds that one of them has confirmed her marital blitz to a New York tabloid, it leads to an estrangement as painful as that from her husband.
English wrangles her talent like a virtuoso. Best is Murphy Brown herself, Candice Bergen, as Mary’s mother, Catherine, who counsels forgiveness when others counsel revenge. Also quite fine in a movie where the piquant sides are tastier than the bland main dish, is Bening, whose Sylvie reveals more than one dimension.
Ryan has the thankless task of delivering the film’s sapless homily: Knowing what you want is the key to personal and professional happiness. (She is in excellent company. Mary Haines is a role that defeated both Norma Shearer – in 1939’s The Women – and June Allyson – in the 1957 music remake, The Opposite Sex.)
In writing this I feel like a hung jury. My final verdict on The Women: Enjoyed, not overjoyed.
Sep 12, 2008
‘Women’ offers Oscar-worthy roles, performances
By Daniel M. Kimmel Telegram & Gazette reviewer
A Picturehouse Entertainment presentation
At Oscar time there’s often carping how there aren’t enough good roles for women and the actress categories sometimes have to stretch to get the five nominees. That won’t be the case this year. “The Women” could probably fill most of the best actress and best supporting actress slots all by itself.
This is the third screen adaptation of Clare Boothe Luce’s play about mostly affluent women complaining about their lives and resolving to do something about it. It was made into a stylishly witty film in 1939, and then was botched in 1956 (as “The Opposite Sex”) by adding music and bringing men into it. For the beauty of the play – and the 1939 movie – is that we see only the women.
That is the path that writer/director Diane English has followed in adapting the play and the 1939 screenplay for modern times. The irony, of course, is that the women are consumed by the influence men have in their lives: their fathers, their husbands, their bosses. However except for an unexpected shot at the end, no males appear on camera. Scenes in restaurants or on city streets (with Boston locations subbing for the New York setting) shows us only women, as if the men are all off somewhere coming up with new ways to drive them crazy.
Meg Ryan plays Mary Haines, the focus of the story. Mary has a perfect life: a happy marriage, a beautiful home, a darling daughter. Then she learns that her husband is having an affair with the “spritzer girl” at a Saks perfume counter (Eva Mendes). Her closest friend Sylvia (Annette Bening) is supportive, but has her own problems as editor of a magazine where she fears she’s losing control. Other friends (Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith) are helpful while the wise old housekeeper (Cloris Leachman) tries to stay out of the way. The impressive cast also includes Candace Bergen (as Mary’s mother), Debi Mazur, Bette Midler, and Carrie Fisher.
Call it “Sex and the City” with brains. Touching on the same issues as the summer’s big “chick flick” this is a movie that doesn’t reduce its characters to sex-crazed clotheshorses. Yes, they all dress to the nines, but they don’t lose sight of the important stuff. When Mary’s husband moves out, Mary may wallow in self-pity but she’s also concerned on the impact it will have on her daughter (India Ennenga). Sylvia, facing a career-ending choice, has to decide whether to betray her friend. The stakes are a lot higher than buying a new pair of shoes.
With such good roles the stars shine. Ryan and Bening are standouts, with Mendes showing the nasty side of the “other woman.” Although “The Women” is not quite as daring as it was in the pre-feminist 1930s in insisting on focusing on women’s voices, it is a witty and enjoyable look at the balancing act women must still perform in their lives with a reminder, at the end, that the men in their lives are never too far away.
‘The Women’: All-star cast in tale full of wit and charm
BY TONI RUBERTO – News Staff Reviewer
Updated: 09/12/08 8:52 AM
Meg is back. Big time. Annette lets loose and has fun. Debra shows that she’s no one-trick pony tied to a guy named Will. The same, actually, could be said about Jada.
Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith are four very good reasons to watch “The Women,” the long-awaited comedy-drama directed, produced and written for the screen by Buffalo’s Diane English. Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman, Debi Mazar, Bette Midler and Eva Mendes round out the all-star cast.
STARRING: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith
DIRECTOR: Diane English
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
RATING: PG-13 for sex-related material, language, some drug use and brief smoking.
THE LOWDOWN: A husband’s affair has implications for a group of friends.
Based on a 1936 play by Clare Booth Luce and the well-regarded 1939 George Cukor film, “The Women” has been deftly updated by English, who modernizes the story without losing the original wit and charm.
The movie centers on a circle of well-to-do friends: Mary Haines (Ryan), a working mother living a charmed life; Sylvie (Bening), the single, workaholic editor at a high-profile women’s magazine; Edie (Messing), a frazzled mother to an ever-expanding brood (“I want to keep going until I get a boy,” she says); and the no-nonsense novelist Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith), who is dating an obnoxious supermodel.
But back to Mary and her perfect life: She has a lovely daughter, successful husband, a fantastic house in Connecticut and a job at her father’s clothing business. Despite her 24-hour schedule, she still retiled her bathroom and did her own cooking for a charity lunch. “People appreciate the personal touch,” she says.
The close-knit group has a habit of going into “the vault” – that sacred place where girlfriends can talk with the guarantee of confidentiality. When Sylvie learns from a chatterbox manicurist (in a hilarious turn by Mazar) that Mary’s husband is cheating, they call for the vault: Do they tell Mary or not?
They don’t have to. In one day, Mary’s perfect world falls apart. Dad fires her; she learns hubby is cheating with the Saks Fifth Avenue spritzer girl (Mendes); and her daughter has seemingly overnight become a rebellious kid who can’t talk to her mom.
“I got fired from all of my jobs – wife, mother, daughter,” Mary says.
With the best of intentions, the women in Mary’s life try to help: her friends, her sage mother Catharine (Bergen) and her ever-present housekeeper (Cloris Leachman). But when Mary learns of a second deception, her life is turned upside down again.
Though the idea that a broken friendship is more painful than a broken marriage is troublesome to me, the script by English is generally witty and thoughtful. (Also troubling is a birthing scene near the film’s end that is so cliched and overwrought that it’s embarrassing to watch.)
Bergen, who worked with English on “Murphy Brown,” is again the beneficiary of some great lines. “There are no 60-year-old women. I’m the only one,” Bergen says, explaining her need for cosmetic surgery. Later, she tells her daughter not to be bitter – “it leads to Botox.”
While the actresses are solid in their respective roles, the script seems tailor-made for Ryan. She is not only the charming and sweet character filmgoers love, but the actress also gets to explore a gamut of emotions that she seems to have strived for in recent years.
Fans of Cukor’s film will appreciate that English has kept some key scenes and elements, including the Jungle Red nail polish; the initial meeting of the wife and mistress in an upscale fitting room; and the bathtub scene where the mistress gets a what-for from a very smart kid.
Oh yes, a note about the men in the film: There aren’t any, as you may already know. If you find that troubling, get over it. As the advertising tag line for the 1939 film declared: “The Women . . . it’s all about the men.” That’s true here, as well. The guys are talked about, talked to (on the phone), cried over, pined for and cursed so often that you’ll forget you’re not seeing them.”¢
The Sudbury Star
Carrie & Co. could learn from this crew
3 stars, SilverCity
What a pleasure this movie is, showcasing actresses I’ve admired for a long time, all at the top of their form. Yes, they’re older now, as are we all, but they look great and know what they’re doing. “The Women” is not, as it claims, “based on the play by Clare Booth Luce.” The credits should read, “inspired by.” Nor does it draw from the screenplay of the 1939 film, although it also has no males on the screen.
The film revolves around four close friends, one married with four kids, one married with one kid but being cheated on, one a high-profile professional woman, one a lesbian. Sound a little familiar? But these woman are wiser, funnier and more articulate than the SATC team, and their lives are not as shallow. Maybe it helps that there aren’t a lot of men hanging around and chewing up screen time. There are two husbands and a boss, but we only hear this end of the telephone conversations.
The movie is a comedy, after all, and we’re not looking for deep insights, but writer-director Diane English (one of the creative forces behind “Murphy Brown”) focuses on story and character, and even in a movie that sometimes plays like an infomercial for Saks Fifth Avenue, we find ourselves intrigued by these women.
Meg Ryan and Annette Bening get top billing as Mary, the wife of a Wall Street millionaire, and Sylvie, editor of a fashion magazine.
They’ve long been best friends, but complications involving Mary’s husband and Sylvie’s job drive them apart. Then Sylvie, who has never been a mother, finds herself acting as one for Mary’s precocious daughter Molly (India Ennenga).
A scene where she gives the young girl direct, honest advice about sex is one of the best in the movie. And there’s another striking scene when Mary’s own mother (Candice Bergen) gives her brutally frank advice about how to deal with a cheating husband.
Debra Messing, from “Will & Grace,” plays Edie, the mother of four. And (spoiler) I will have to reveal that she gives birth to a fifth, in order to observe that she finds a way to distinguish the obligatory childbirth scene. She does some screaming that, in its own way, equals Meg Ryan’s famous restaurant scene in “When Harry Met Sally.” As for the fourth friend, Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith), she’s a lesbian and, well, that’s about it. She does what she can with the role, but there’s not much to do. Her current lover, a supermodel, is introduced for a few pouts and hustled off-screen.
In one scene with peculiar staging, Alex walks down a sidewalk BEHIND Mary and Sylvie and never has one word of dialogue. What’s with that?
There’s strong comedic acting in some of the supporting roles, including Cloris Leachman as Mary’s housekeeper, Eva Mendes as the bombshell “spritzer girl” at the Saks perfume counter, Bette Midler as a jolly Hollywood agent, and Debi Mazar as a talkative manicure girl from Long Island. Carrie Fisher gets points for playing her entire scene while furiously pumping a workout machine.
George Cukor’s 1939 version of “The Women” remains a classic. It played like a convention of Hollywood’s top female stars (Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine). This 2008 version also brings together stars, but in a way that illuminates a shift in the Hollywood sensibility. Is there an actress today of the mythical stature of those five?
Meryl Streep, you say? A better actress than any of them, but does she sell tickets in a market dominated by action pictures and comic book superheroes? Angelina Jolie?
Big star, but too old for the perfume girl and too young for the others. Nicole Kidman? She gets a nod in the dialogue. The novelty in 1939 was seeing so much star power in a single movie (also true of “Grand Hotel”). Here what we’re seeing is an opportunity to regret that we didn’t see more of these actresses in roles deserving of them.
The old MGM would have kept them busy.
New York Sun
‘The Women’: The First Wives and the City Wait To Exhale
By GABRIELLE BIRKNER | September 12, 2008
Barely four months after “Sex and the City” landed on the big screen, another film celebrating the bond between four female friends living in and around New York City arrives this weekend.
LADIES FIRST India Ennenga, Meg Ryan, and Candice Bergen in Diane English’s ‘The Women.’
“The Women” is director Diane English’s adaptation of Clare Boothe Luce’s play of the same title, which opened on Broadway in 1936; three years after that, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell were among the silver-screen legends to star in a film version. The 1939 film, directed by George Cukor, centers on housewife Mary Haines (Shearer) and several of her pampered peers. Mary is the picture of domestic bliss until she discovers, thanks to a loose-lipped manicurist, that her husband is having an affair with a department store salesgirl.
Ms. English, the producer behind the Emmy-winning television milestone “Murphy Brown,” stays true to the premise of the 1939 film. But she does bring Mary (Meg Ryan) and her social circle –not to mention her manicurist – to present-day New York and gives three of the four protagonists glamorous-sounding careers, with which they are uniformly unhappy. Mary, a multitasking mother, designs clothes; Sylvie (Annette Bening), a no-nonsense career woman, edits a glossy women’s magazine; Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith), a lesbian with a penchant for supermodels, has written a best-selling book. Earth-mother Edie (Debra Messing), pregnant with her fifth child, rounds out the tight-knit quartet.
News of Mary’s philandering husband causes her friends to spy on and, ultimately, to confront the other woman, a leggy beauty named Crystal (Eva Mendes) who works behind the perfume counter at Saks Fifth Avenue. Crystal proves to be as indiscreet as she is unapologetic. Mary, meanwhile, refrains from confronting her wayward spouse: She heeds her patrician mother’s advice to look the other way because “there’s nothing like a heavy dose of a man’s mistress to make him miss his wife.” But when the humiliation becomes more than Mary can bear, she insists that her hedge-fund millionaire husband move out of their suburban Connecticut manse.
Mary’s marriage seems beyond repair and, after she is fired from the family fashion business that she had expected to take over, so does her career (like Ms. Ryan’s, at this point). As if that weren’t enough, she suffers another devastating betrayal, involving a story that appears in the New York Post’s Page Six gossip column.
Mary, the hardworking mother renowned for catering her own garden parties, devolves into a basket case. She whittles away her days, lounging in her pajamas, watching daytime talk shows, and snacking on junk food. In one scene, to the dismay of her acerbic housekeeper (Cloris Leachman), she downs a stick of butter dipped in cocoa and milk.
It is only with a healthy dose of moxie, some from an eccentric Hollywood agent (Bette Midler) whom she meets at a wellness retreat, and more than a little help from her closest friends, that Mary begins to extricate herself from the depths of despair. Slowly, she begins to repair the many broken relationships in her life, including the one with her rebellious preteen daughter (India Ennenga).
Mary’s triumphant rejuvenation treads terrain familiar to the chick-flick genre and, more specifically, to the sisterhood-is-powerful subgenre that includes the “Sex and the City” movie, “The First Wives Club” (1996), and “Waiting to Exhale” (1995).
Like the 1939 version of the film, Ms. English’s “The Women” employs a wildly talented all-female ensemble cast. By my observation, not a single man appears on-screen during the entire 114-minute movie (nor does one appear in Cukor’s film). Yet the casting misses the mark: The actresses who play the four central characters range in age from 36 to 50, yet they are portrayed as contemporaries. Mary and Sylvie seem slightly too far over the hill to be talking (or cracking jokes) about imminent pregnancy. Meanwhile, Mary’s mother (Candice Bergen), would be far more believable as her older sister.
“The Women” has moments of comic relief, and more than a few witticisms ably delivered – most often by Ms. Bergen. In one scene, she tells her daughter, “I know you don’t drink in the afternoon. But you will eventually, so why not just start now?”; In another, she wonders aloud, “At what age do women start covering themselves with tarps just to take a walk on the beach?”
But the periodic injections of humor don’t make up for exaggerated, inauthentic characters and a meandering script. “The Women” resembles something much closer to an extended episode of “The View” – that is, a whiny, catty, and unyielding spectacle – than to its 1939 forebear, or even to more compelling female-friendship films, such as “Sex and the City. ”
A Shining Cast Tells an Age-Old Story in “Women”
September 11, 2008
by Taylor Pero
Click For Full Size I approached the media screening of The Women with some trepidation. I couldn’t help but worry that the 2008 version by writer/director/producer Diane English would not compare with the 1939 release – George Cukor’s brilliant adaptation of the hit Broadway play written by Clare Boothe Luce. I’m gleeful to report that all the main plotlines remain intact and that the new is equally as entertaining as the old.
This is one of the most impressive rosters of female actors ever assembled in one film and each holds her own accordingly. The brilliant cast includes such notable talents as Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Candice Bergen, Bette Midler, Cloris Leachman, Carrie Fisher and Debi Mazar.
The pace, wit and outrageousness of the original is maintained in this retelling of an age-old story about a cheating husband. There is no male eye candy in The Women, not even on the crowded streets of Manhattan. Men are spoken of in a continuum of female diatribe but never, ever seen. Not unlike a gay man walking into a roomful of lesbians – he is non-existent. They look right through him as if he’s a pane of glass. That’s been my experience, anyway.
And, speaking of lesbians, one of the characters in The Women is out and proud, and her sexual choices have no negatives with her close body of friends. One dinner conversation takes place in a restaurant jammed with lesbians of every type, shade, persuasion, and color. The implied message is “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going away.” I love that. No dialogue about it. Just acceptance of modern times.
This new version by English (Murphy Brown) arrives as a valentine to today’s woman, an appreciation of her efforts to navigate a complex web of choices, roles and responsibilities.
The dilemma unfolds as a wealthy Connecticut housewife and mother, Mary Haines (Ryan), finally finds out what her best friends already know but are afraid to tell her: The manicurist at their favorite department store has proof that Mary’s husband is having an affair with a steamy hot kitten who works in the cosmetics department. Mendes tackles her role as the sexpot husband-stealing vamp so effectively that she wipes Joan Crawford, who played the role in 1939, off the blackboard. Where Crawford was steely and scheming, Mendes is purring. Her character is vulnerable and lovable because it’s clear she’s from the wrong side of the tracks and only knows how to project her feminine charms to get what she wants ”¦ and, if it’s another woman’s husband, so what?
Mary’s best friend is a powerful figure in the world of publishing, Sylvie Fowler (Bening), played to perfection. All of the original snappy one-liners (“This is my face, get used to it”) are there, along with many more.
For Ryan, this role puts her back on the top shelf among leading ladies. Bening is lusciously vicious with her power and confidence but is put in deep jeopardy when forced to reveal her best friend’s secret. The plot thickens as Mary and Sylvie’s friendship is tested to the core.
The always amazing Leachman is brilliant as Mary’s longtime housekeeper, and Smith is dead-on in her portrayal of a modern-day woman living on the edge. Adding more comedy to the story is our beloved Bette Midler in a role unworthy of her talents. Her role is a cameo of sardine proportions and disappoints those longing for a closer look and a greater laugh.
Carrie Fisher plays Carrie Fisher and is not challenged to stretch what limited acting ability she has. I think she’s brilliant in other creative ways, but film acting is not her strong suit anymore. Messing and Bergen add wit and charm to the mix.
The Women opens nationwide on Sept. 12, and though it’s not a guy film, it is a very good gay film that ordinary women and their hairdressers will delight in. I hope it makes bundles of box-office dollars and becomes a must-have in everyone’s DVD collection.
TC Palm Coast
After 70 years, a fresh look at ‘The Women’
By BY HAP ERSTEIN, Correspondent
Thursday, September 11, 2008
The roles and status of women in society have changed drastically over the past 70 years, but not so much that a star-studded 1939 movie called “The Women” cannot be remade and remain relevant in this new millennium.
Still, refashioning the all-female tale originally penned by playwright Clare Booth Luce and getting it filmed was hardly easy. The journey of this updated version of “The Women,” which opens across the country today, began 14 years ago, when A-listers Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan tried to get the project green-lighted, planning to produce and star in the movie under the direction of James L. Brooks (Oscar winner for “Terms of Endearment”).
Although initial test readings of “The Women” screenplay were favorable, no studio would commit to the payroll-heavy comedy that featured no men. Over the years, work continued on “The Women,” while cast members, script doctors and directors came and went. The only constant was Ryan, as sweet, naive housewife Mary Haines, whose world comes apart when she learns from a gossipy spa manicurist that her husband is having an affair with a perfume counter salesgirl (Eva Mendes).
Writing and directing “The Women” is Diane English, best known for creating the television sitcom “Murphy Brown,” whose smart, snappy dialogue is much in evidence. Surely it is no coincidence that Murphy herself, Candice Bergen, has a juicy supporting role as Ryan’s face-lift-obsessed, advice-dispensing mother.
English shepherded the movie for years, de-emphasizing its initial catty, male-dependent outlook for a more modern, empowered and liberated perspective. The major studios remained unenthusiastic, so English bought back her script and went the independent route, slashing the budget and salaries for such ensemble players as Annette Bening (taking over for Roberts as Ryan’s prime confidante), “Will and Grace” star Debra Messing, and Bette Midler in a scene-stealing cameo as an assertive talent agent.
Chances are that few moviegoers today have vivid memories, or any memory, of the 1939 film, directed by the legendary George Cukor and starring Norma Shearer as Mary, Rosalind Russell as her best friend and Joan Crawford as the shop clerk. While the story is largely the same, Ryan’s Mary eventually rises to personal independence by pursuing a career as a fashion designer. Her circle of friends is notably more diverse, as seen in the casting of Jada Pinkett Smith as a black lesbian.
Timing is crucial in Hollywood and “The Women” arrives on the heels of the recent box-office successes of “Sex and the City” and “Mamma Mia!” which has led distributor Picturehouse to increase the film’s promotional budget and number of screens for its opening weekend.
The Daily Mail
The Women: With girlfriends like these, who needs enemies?
By Chris Tookey
This is a starry update of George Cukor’s 1939 catty, all-female comedy about a wealthy woman (Norma Shearer) who discovers that her husband is having an affair with a trashy shopgirl (Joan Crawford).
To fit in with political correctness and the taste for female bonding which made such a hit out of Sex And The City, an acerbic satire on shallow socialites has been transformed into a cosy celebration of friendship among smug, middle-class women.
This is not an improvement.
Meg Ryan plays the wronged wife and Eva Mendes the shopgirl. Unfortunately, Ryan is so self-centred and immature, while Mendes is so sexy, it’s all too easy to see why hubby went astray, and less than plausible when he wants to come back.
Also, there’s an unpleasant, unspoken subtext of class hatred. Mendes’s character is clearly Hispanic and working class, while the women who despise her regard themselves as her social superiors.
Our irritating heroine’s snobby support group consists of Annette Bening as a neurotic magazine editor, Jada Pinkett Smith as a lesbian writer of bestsellers and Debra Messing as a perpetually pregnant mother.
Candice Bergen turns up as Meg Ryan’s mum and pilfers the funniest lines, such as her description of a friend who’s just had plastic surgery: ‘She looks like she’s re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.’
I enjoyed her offering her daughter a stiff drink at lunchtime: ‘I know you don’t drink in the afternoon, but you will eventually, so why not start now?’
Bette Midler contributes a pointless cameo, which only reminds us that she used to do this kind of thing much better.
Writer-director Diane English’s track record is in sitcoms such as Murphy Brown, and it shows. The characterisation is thin and the plot as feeble and mechanical as soap opera. There are far too many static, two-hander dialogue scenes where nothing really happens.
For anyone who can’t wait until Sex And The City 2, this may pass the time, but the yammering about what women want is tiresome when we don’t have an emotional investment in these people.
Admittedly, I am a man, but I am partial to a good chick flick. This one made me feel as if I had been trapped in the perfume hall at Selfridges.
Verdict: Rarely have I felt more manly
Rating: 2 out of 5
The Women (2008)
By Owen Gleiberman
Owen Gleiberman is a film critic for EW
The 1939 MGM classic The Women was the original Sex and the City. It had everything: gossip and fashion shows and spa workouts, plus a peek into the dishy manners of New York high society. Directed by George Cukor, from a script by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin (which was adapted from Claire Boothe Luce’s Broadway smash), the movie was a zinger-strewn orgy of feminine camaraderie and backbiting, yet it also confronted the timeless issue of whether a happy marriage can – and should – survive an adulterous affair. The Women wasn’t by any means a great movie, but it had a polished acid vibrance and, for all its over-the-top chatter, an elegantly simple story.
The new version, written and directed by former Murphy Brown writer-producer Diane English, sprawls all over the place, in no small part because it’s trying so hard to be a luscious retrograde fantasy and a tale of 21st-century empowerment. Meg Ryan, her hair so mega-permed it looks as if she were hiding under the world’s most expensive mop, takes the Norma Shearer role: She’s Mary Haines, a wealthy Connecticut housewife whose world collapses when she learns – from a blabby Saks Fifth Avenue manicurist (Debi Mazar) – that her husband has been sleeping with the golddigger who works at the perfume counter. (This floozy is played by Eva Mendes, sexy-vicious where Joan Crawford was sexy-psychotic.) Annette Bening, in the Rosalind Russell role of Mary’s treacherous best friend, is now a women’s magazine editor, which means that once you’ve adjusted to how badly Bening has been lit, the film can get sidetracked into one of those awesomely unconvincing inside views of how New York media supposedly work.
Meanwhile, Ryan’s Mary reacts to her predicament by experiencing a career-minded awakening (I can be a fashion designer! Because I believe in myself!), which feels like the sort of thing we watched Diane Keaton go through in bad comedies 20 years ago. Nattering around the edges are Debra Messing as a busybody and walking advertisement for the joys of child rearing, Jada Pinkett Smith as a sullen author, and Bette Midler as some weird Mae West noodge of a bat-brained divorcÃ©e. For added relevance, Mary’s daughter (India Ennenga) has been made into a compendium of up-to-the-minute girl crises. The Women is such an arduous patchwork of ”issues” it ends up a Frankenstein’s monster of a chick flick. The movie is a feminist lesson instead of what it should have been (and once was): a tough, synthetic, high-gloss entertainment that wears its heart on its lacquered fingernails. C
Movie Review: ‘The Women’ presents a soft update on the original
01:00 AM EDT on Friday, September 12, 2008
By Michael Janusonis
Journal Arts Writer
The wit and droll put-downs fly in writer-director Diane English’s update of the 1939 film The Women.
I’d also like to have said that the fur flies, too. In the 1939 original, which starred Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell, there were on-screen fireworks, including a hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing catfight.
English, creator and writer of the TV hit Murphy Brown, doesn’t have the same killer instinct. Her remake certainly has more than its fair share of clever barbs and bitchy gossip, but it doesn’t have the ka-powie moments of the 69-year-old movie which was based on Clare Boothe Luce’s play that skewered the two-faced society dames of her day. English’s film is much more polite and cool, maybe not so surprising because divorce and adultery have lost some of their shock value in the nearly seven decades since the original film was released, and women are seen as more sisterly than viperish.
Now Meg Ryan’s Mary Haines wonders what she, the perfect wife and mother whose busy life is a round of helping the less fortunate, could possibly have done to send her famous Wall Street hubby straying. She doesn’t even confront her husband with the fact that she knows of his affair until prodded by her friends. She hunkers down first, trying to figure out her options.
Eva Mendes, as perfume salesgirl Crystal Allen, seems less calculating in her adultery than the way Crawford played Crystal. She comes across as merely an opportunistic dunce who grabbed a chance when she saw it coming.
On the other hand, for all the praise heaped on the George Cukor-directed original – and some may bemoan the fact that English’s film doesn’t have the same fire – does anyone remember the 10-minute mid-picture fashion show in Technicolor (the rest of the film was in black and white) that brought Cukor’s movie to a halt? Or Shearer’s endless weeping? Or the big divorce sequence set at a Reno dude ranch that brought all the bitchiness out into the open?
That divorce dude ranch is now a rustic woodland spa, where Mary gets advice from a Hollywood agent played by Bette Midler who is in the midst of her fourth divorce ”¦ or is it the fifth? Mary spills out her guts, although her “confession” seems small potatoes, during a late-night pot-smoking session with Midler’s seen-it-all Leah. But at least Mary tries to take matters into her own hands and carve out a new life for herself with her feet on the ground. And rather than being only a society matron, she designs clothes and even has her own fashion show ”¦ which this time comes near the end of the film and seems an integral part of the plot.
Mary’s best friend Sylvie Fowler, played by Russell in the original as a catty conniver who sets up the moment in which Mary discovers her husband’s infidelity from a gossipy manicurist, is toned down here as well. In the 1939 movie, she was married and went on to face her own marital calamity as the film progressed. Here, played by Annette Bening, Sylvie is a well-meaning friend, shocked to discover from a manicurist that Mary’s husband has been cheating. She tries to shield Mary from finding out. She even travels to the perfume counter at Saks to scout out Crystal and confront her with a warning. Only much later, in a moment in which Sylvie feels her own future compromised, does she betray Mary.
Actually, many of English’s changes make The Women, seem more in line with today’s sensibilities. These are sophisticated people who are movers and shakers in the New York-suburban Connecticut social scene and they are well versed in the treacherous waters of romance and divorce. At one point, when the melodrama begins piling up, the frustrated Mary blurts, “What do you think this is, some kind of 1930s movie?”
Unlike the 1939 film, in which there seemed to be a stampede among Mary’s friends and acquaintances to spread the gossip of her husband’s adultery, in 2008 Mary’s friends rally around her protectively. “I wanted to turn the film into a love story between two [heterosexual] women,” English has said. Indeed, as in the original movie, there is not one male in the entire film.
Bening has a knack for delivering catty asides so drolly that her victims may not even realize they’ve been stung. Besides Sylvie, who at first seems the soul of compassion when it comes to Mary; the other friends include Rhode Island’s Debra Messing as Edie Cohen (Edith Potter in the original) a Mother Hubbard-type whose home is filled with children and another on the way in hopes of finally having a boy, she says. Jada Pinkett Smith plays a celebrated, but whiny, lesbian writer who is supposed to be funny and witty but seems flat. It’s an odd group that seems to have little in common, save to make the film as diverse as possible.
Besides Midler, several other famous actresses add brief, but solid support. Carrie Fisher has a cameo as a go-for-the-jugular gossip columnist. Debi Mazar is pitch perfect as the blabby manicurist. Candice Bergen (Murphy Brown herself!) is Mary’s wise, soothing mother, even though she’s only 15 years older than Ryan in real life. Cloris Leachman lights up the screen in upstairs-downstairs moments as Mary’s all-knowing housekeeper, delivering funny behind-the-scenes asides and advice that’s never taken, vowing that she never becomes involved with her employers and then getting involved.
True to today’s me-first sensibilities, the self-sacrificing Mary eventually must find her “me” groove and there’s a too-quick resolution of the film’s central crisis between Mary and Sylvie that seems contrived to speed up the story. Still, if it’s the sight of some of our best actresses hitting their marks in a movie that’s witty and often wise, you’ll find what you’re looking for with these Women.
*** 1/2The Women
Starring: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman, Debi Mazar, India Ennenga.
Rated: PG-13, contains adult themes, drugs.
Can ‘The Women’ remake rule in Hollywood?
Constance Droganes, entertainment writer, CTV.ca
Natural disasters, wars, election drama looming on both sides of the border…Set against that backdrop can the box office success of one more chick flick really matter?
Does Kim Kardashian know Esperanto?
Yet in that illustrious hill of beans known as Meg Ryan’s “girl power” comedy, “The Women,” does matter. Its debut in theatres on September 12 will be scrutinized by studio execs and critics much like moviegoers will ogle Eva Mendes, Ryan’s smoking hot film nemesis. Why? It’s all about the money, honey.
Making movies by and for women has certainly not been a top priority in Hollywood. But two of 2008’s top-grossing films have shifted Hollywood’s thinking: “Sex and the City” and “Mamma Mia!”
As of the end of August, 2008 “Sex and the City” has made $152 million in the United States and $236 million overseas. “Mamma Mia!’s” haul is no less impressive. To date, the film version of the famed musical has earned $126 million in the U.S. and $250 million overseas.
Both “women’s” movies proved to be far more than flukes at the summer box office. They also proved that chick flicks can lure male moviegoers into theatres.
Can “The Women” do the same?
Pumping up the girl power
“The Women” isn’t Tolstoy. Don’t hold that against it. And if you’re annoyed that director Diane English dared to remake George Cukor’s 1939 classic, get over it. Remakes are the plat du jour in today’s Hollywood.
At its core “The Women” – a tale about a rich Manhattanite (Ryan) who learns of her husband’s affair with a shopgirl (Mendes) – holds as much appeal today as it did when Joan Crawford strutted her stuff as this story’s “other” woman. Cattiness, compassion, comic genius…Cukor juggled all that plus some crafty little nuggets about marriage, female friendship and love into a bonbon that only gets better once the wrapper comes off.
Like Cukor’s estrogen-stoked original English’s update is locked and loaded with heavyweight talent. Annette Bening (Ryan’s overbearing best friend), Debra Messing (the earth mother), Jada Pinkett Smith (the lesbian), Bette Midler (the jaded casting agent) and Candice Bergen (Ryan’s big-screen mom) easily round out this Gucci-clad girls’ club. In fact, Bergen nearly steals the show with her pithy one-liners and the Botoxed-brand of wisdom.
Tooled for the times, “The Women” even works some Oprah-esque self-help into its dialogue. “What do you want?” Midler’s ballsy character asks Ryan at a personal power retreat. From that moment Ryan visualizes these words 24/7 and morphs from a duped wife with no life into a dynamo who goes for her dreams.
Can women rule in Hollywood?
If it’s a hit “The Women” could help propel Hollywood’s “girl power” momentum to new heights. If its success eclipses “Sex and the City” and “Mamma Mia!” that’s just one small step in the right direction, says Phyllida Lloyd.
“Frankly I find it very odd that in a population that’s more than 50 per cent of women that Hollywood isn’t producing more movies to cater to that audience. The demographic is being grossly underserved in my opinion,” the 50-year-old Mamma Mia! director told CTV earlier this summer.
According to www.moviesbywomen.com only five per cent of Hollywood features are directed by women. In fact, women comprised just seven per cent of the directors working on the top 250 films of 2006, 92 per cent of these films had no female directors at all and 63 per cent had no female producers.
As for meaty leading roles for 21st-century actresses, consider this. When George Cukor made “The Women” in 1939 Bette Davis stared in “Dark Victory,” Greta Garbo headlined in “Ninotchka,” Judy Garland sped to super-stardom in “The Wizard of Oz” and Vivien Leigh conquered the world with “Gone with the Wind.” Can anyone remember a year like that in Tinseltown in recent times?
“The only rule in Hollywood is that there are no rules. Nobody knows what is going to sell,” says Canada AM movie critic Richard Crouse. “‘Every now and then a movie comes along that goes against the current wisdom of Hollywood. For example, movies headlined by women can’t make money. ‘Sex and the City’ changed that. It proved to Hollywood that women do go see movies, not just 15-year-old girls.”
“The Women” has its charms and enough stilettos to kick most gold-digging, husband-stealing social climbers to the curb. But can it kick some serious box office butt? Can it convince Hollywood to make more movies geared to a female demographic? Like those breathy studio execs we’ll have to wait and see.
As Lloyd says, “To have Hollywood tell me or other women like me that we’re not a market that interests them is silly. Good stories work. Hollywood should wake up to that and give this audience films they want.”
Howard County Times
Movie review: ‘The Women’
Balancing high above their heels
By Mike Giuliano
“The Women” is by, about and for women. Following on the high heels of “Sex and the City” and other recent films aimed at a female audience, it’s a light-hearted feminist updating of the 1939 movie by the same title.
In terms of the update: Let’s just say they use some words that not even Clark Gable would have gotten away with in 1939.
Frankly my dear, this glossy remake is just an excuse to cinematically spend a couple hours trying on clothes, sharing romantic woes and simply hanging out with gal pals. This is such a female affair that there are no men in the movie. Every character is a woman; and even the crowded New York restaurant and street scenes are populated exclusively by fashionably dressed women. They discuss men, but the guys are never seen on screen.
Any real-life males who are dragged along to the movie theater are likely to enjoy “The Women,” but they’re just as likely to deny having liked it or even having seen it. What self-respecting guy wants to go into the office Monday morning and tell male colleagues that he missed Sunday football because he and his girlfriend went to see this movie?
It’s entertaining for gals and, perhaps, guys thanks to writer-director Diane English, who oversees the slickly packaged movie. It’s eye candy for those with Godiva taste.
If “The Women” did nothing more than provide that kind of satisfaction, there’d be no reason to complain about a movie that just wants to show off the good life. What gives the material some thematic substance, however, is that the large, star-filled cast and related subplots are more or less linked to a central relationship that has genuine feeling and not just fluff.
Meg Ryan has one of her best roles as Mary Haines, whose marriage to a wealthy businessman provides her a rich and famous lifestyle. She’s emotionally grounded, though, and takes her marital vows as seriously as she does the care of her young family. When Mary learns that her husband is cheating on her, it’s treated with broad comic strokes that fortunately don’t trivialize the hurt she feels.
The central relationship in this movie isn’t between Mary and her unseen husband, however, but between Mary and her best friend, Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), a women’s magazine editor who channels her energy into publishing and hence does not have a domestic life like Mary’s. The ups and downs of their friendship are persuasively handled in the script, and both actors are careful to bring depth to even the most slapstick of moments.
The impressive cast offers so many familiar faces you’ll start to think New York is only inhabited by famous female actors. Unfortunately, they don’t all fit with equal ease into the plot.
Candice Bergen brings mature beauty and wisdom to her role as Mary’s mother; and another consistently pleasing performance is by Cloris Leachman as Mary’s housekeeper, who sure has a lot of melodrama to keep track of here.
Not working so well is an extended cameo by Bette Midler as a vivacious presence at an upstate resort, because it just seems like the endearing Bette Midler being, um, the endearing Bette Midler.
Generally fitting pretty well into the storyline are Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Debi Mazar and Carrie Fisher. It’s fun to see them all inhabiting the same movie and, in any event, they’re in effect the only inhabitants in this world. If you’re looking for Vin Diesel, he does not live here. Grade: B
Bay Area Reporter
‘The Women’ of our times
by Tavo Amador
In 1936, Clare Boothe shocked and titillated Broadway audiences with The Women, her scathing satire about the empty lives of New York society ladies. It reflected an era where status and wealth depended on men, around whom women built their worlds and over whom they competed. MGM purchased the movie rights, and Anita Loos (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) and Jane Murfin wrote the often hilarious screenplay. Openly gay George Cukor directed an all-female cast headed by two superstars, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, and featuring three others who would soon become household names: Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Fontaine. The 1939 film was a smash. In 1955, the studio remade it as The Opposite Sex, introduced the husbands and showcased June Allyson, while wasting Ann Sheridan, Ann Miller, Dolores Gray, Joan Blondell, Agnes Moorehead, and Joan Collins. It was dreadful.
Given the changes in society during the seven decades since the original production, how relevant would The Women be today? Thanks to Diane English’s (TV’s Murphy Brown) updated script and successful feature-film directing debut, the answer is, “Very.” The fundamental plot issue is timeless: What does a happily married woman do when she discovers her husband is cheating on her?
Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), managing editor of a struggling woman’s magazine, learns that her best friend’s husband is having an affair with a Saks perfume clerk (Eva Mendes). Should she tell Mary Haines (Meg Ryan), or keep it “in the vault?” Undecided, she confides in a mutual friend, Edie Cohn (Debra Messing). Both are shocked and concerned about Mary. Alas, Mary learns the truth from the same gossipy manicurist (Debi Mazar) at Saks who told Sylvie. She’s devastated. Mary’s mother Catharine (Candace Bergen) offers some sound suggestions along with a martini lunch. She warns her not to discuss it with her girlfriends, but it’s too late.
Sylvie, desperate to remake her magazine, is blackmailed by ruthless gossip columnist Bailey Smith (Carrie Fisher) into revealing the truth about Mary and Stephen. In exchange, she’ll write a few articles for the publication. Shattered, Mary ends their friendship. Chagrined, forced to compromise both her personal and professional ideals, Sylvie reaches out to Molly, who is distraught over her parents’ break-up. A depressed Mary goes on an eating binge before recovering at a spa. There she meets a cynical yet romantic Hollywood agent known as “The Countess” (Bette Midler), who’s a serial monogamist. While sharing a joint, the Countess gives Mary some shrewd advice, which she follows.
English’s script eliminates the characters originally played by Goddard and Fontaine. Consequently, the famous hair-pulling and scratching catfight between Russell and Goddard is also gone. In its place, however, is a much funnier confrontation between Sylvie and Mary.
English’s script is sharp, mixing comic one-liners with keen insights. As a director, she paces the story well and guides the cast effectively, with one exception. Mendes’ Crystal is a miscalculation that strains credibility. A man might want to betray Ryan’s Mary with her, but Saks would never hire a woman who dressed and acted like a common hooker to sell perfume. Crawford’s Crystal was a social climber who mimicked the look and behavior of her betters. Mendes is just sullen, bored, and cheap. Her line readings are too languid.
Ryan, whose Mary has been living a Martha Stewart life, is a big improvement on Shearer’s noble, weepy portrayal. Ryan uses her charm and youthful appearance effectively. Mary is a nice woman who has been hurt and humiliated. Even her father has rejected her. When she turns her life around, it’s not to regain Stephen, but to establish her professional identity as a clothing designer. The fashion show sequence in the original stopped the action. In the remake, it comes towards the end and enhances the story.
As the eternally pregnant Edith, Messing, while not completely eliminating the ghost of Grace Adler, is warm, witty, and has a few surprises of her own. Her interaction with a lesbian friend and blocked writer, Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith), is very funny. Pinkett Smith is terrific, and making her a lesbian is a natural extension of the role portrayed in the original by Florence Nash.
Bergen is wonderful: worldly, sardonic, supportive. Midler and Fisher, both fine, are on screen too briefly. As Mary’s housekeeper Maggie, Cloris Leachman is nuanced and memorable, commenting wryly on the action.
The acting honors, however, belong to Bening, who again proves to be a comic actress of unequaled skill. She erases the ghost of Russell’s over-the-top, unsympathetic Sylvia. Bening’s Sylvie is skittish about men and has focused on a career. Her professional fears are legitimate, and the threat she faces from younger employees whose standards she feels will dumb down her readership is valid and poignant. She tosses off her lines with aplomb. “I am my own husband.” She’s a witty snob. Her dismay that Stephen would leave Mary for “a spritzer” superbly sums up today’s class-consciousness. She’s the epitome of a modern, stylish, pampered professional woman, working 24/7, cell phone in one hand, laptop at the ready, doing what it takes to succeed. When her Faustian bargain threatens to destroy a decades-long friendship, she’s appalled by her own behavior. It’s a tricky road to navigate, but Bening walks it wearing one gorgeous pair of high heels after another.
Los Angeles CityBeat
Tired and Twice Told
High Concept Remakes of ”˜The Women’ and ”˜Django’ Hit New Lows
By Andy Klein
For every good motion picture remake out there, there are 10 bad ones; for every justifiable remake, a hundred that are ill conceived. This week’s duo ”“ The Women and Sukiyaki Western Django ”“ does nothing to improve the ratio.
The Women is, of course, based on the famous 1936 play by the very clever Clare Boothe Luce and the beloved 1939 MGM screen adaptation (co-written, in a weird homophonic coincidence, by the even cleverer Anita Loos). The original starred Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Mary Boland, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine, and Marjorie Main, a pretty intimidating gang; but the new version has Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes, Annette Bening, and Bette Midler in place of the first four of these ”“ which is not so shabby either. (I haven’t seen the 1956 version, in which June Allyson, Joan Collins, Delores Gray, and Agnes Moorhead stepped into these roles; but the very fact that it introduced male performers ”“ most prominently Leslie Nielsen! ”“ into the previously all-female cast sounds like a deal breaker.)
Luce’s play was particularly tied to its times, filled with what the author may well have considered eternal verities about romance, sex, marriage, and women’s roles in society. It’s impossible to deny that vast ”“ if still incomplete ”“ advancements have been made in the last seven decades.
Thanks to these wholesale changes in the culture, The Women is either ripe for remaking … or utterly impossible to reconcile with contemporary life; the idea is either inspired or doomed. Writer/director Diane English ”“ best known for creating Murphy Brown ”“ has made sweeping changes to the characters, while preserving the major basic plot elements.
As in the original, naive, upper-class Mary Haines (Ryan) thinks her marriage to businessman Stephen is as perfect as the rest of her life … until she discovers that hubby has been stepping out with trashy golddigger Crystal Allen (Mendes). She’s shattered, but her mother (Bergen) counsels patience, much to the shock of Mary’s friends ”“ Edie (Debra Messing), Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith), and magazine editor Sylvie (Bening). (Just for trivia’s sake, let’s note that Ryan has played Bergen’s daughter before, in her screen debut, the 1981 Rich and Famous ”“ the last film made by George Cukor, who also directed … the original version of The Women!)
Luce’s plot was basically a serviceable edifice on which to hang a series of witticisms, and English hasn’t added much in the way of rigorous structure. Aside from the updating, her main change has been to shift focus toward Mary’s friendship with Sylvie, who betrays her. It’s pretty clear by the end that English considers sisterhood to be a more important theme than marriage.
If this had been released two weeks ago, I wouldn’t have been as distracted trying to force it into a political allegory. The moment I saw Mendes, I thought, “Sarah Palin!” … influencing Stephen (the electorate?) against his best interests (Mary, the Democratic Party), who must reconcile with Sylvie (Hillary Clinton) after a betrayal. Or something.
There’s probably nowhere to go with that.
English’s attempts to fit The Women into a modern setting are intelligent, but that, unfortunately, does not suffice, because the film is so limp in so many other ways. It fails not so much in concept as in execution. While roughly 20 minutes shorter than Cukor’s take, it suffers from logy pacing, both in the overall forward movement and in the timing within scenes. English’s dialogue simply isn’t as clever; the first of my handful of chortles wasn’t provoked until nearly a half hour in. Some lines are arch ”“ “What do you think this is,” Ryan asks Bergen, “some kind of ’30s movie?” Others simply don’t sound like human speech ”“ Bening is forced to mouth the awkward “You’ve not been there?” where an actual person would have said, “You haven’t been there?”
Bits from the earlier versions occasionally pop up, but none too effectively. Viewers with an attachment to Cukor’s film will be disappointed by the disappearance of the long sequence at the Reno divorce ranch. Here it’s shortened to a five-minute segment at some sort of New Age retreat, with Mary Boland’s Countess (“Oh, l’amour, l’amour!”) well reincarnated in Bette Midler as a Sue Mengers-like Hollywood agent. Midler is perfect, but blink and you might miss her.
Technically … well, the whole thing looks flat (at best) and sometimes downright ugly. And the usually reliable Mark Isham provides a bland score that would be right at home in a James L. Brooks film, and, boy, do I not mean that in a good way.
Broward Palm Beach
Once grand, The Women is now just another chick flick
By Ella Taylor
published: September 11, 2008
What do you think this is?” cries a lady who lunches in Diane English’s remake of George Cukor’s The Women. “Some kind of ’30s movie?”
Even without the 14-year struggle to get the Murphy Brown writer’s pet project past studio doubters, it would be a tall order to remake George Cukor’s 1939 hit, let alone try to corral its proudly reactionary gender politics for 21st-century feminism (or what’s left of it, if Sarah Palin has her way). For one thing, the original movie was made during a period when Hollywood eagerly cranked out women’s movies by the dozen and raked in the profits accordingly. For another, The Women – a product of the creative tension between Cukor, who in his trÃ¨s gay way loved all women provided they came excitable and well-dressed, and his source material, Clare Boothe Luce’s viciously clever 1936 stage satire of Manhattan society dames – was pretty out there for a mainstream movie. Luce’s play wasn’t just an exhortation to the woman wronged by infidelity to stand by her man and manipulate him back into the nest but also a furiously conservative attack on the modern woman – a play whose respectably married central character, Mary (played by Norma Shearer), entered with a mannish stride, smoking a pipe. It’s only adultery that softens her contours, brings a wistful glisten to her eye at every mention of her husband the heel, and surrounds her with gushy girlfriend gossips who stand ready to rat her out as necessary.
Luce may have been a creep, but she was a fun creep, full of piss and vinegar as she took deadly aim at the useless lives of flighty females with more money than sense. The Women knew what it was, and in Cukor’s smooth hands, it carried itself with pride and unspeakably fabulous threads. Who knows what English’s pudding of a remake thinks it is? Trailing negative buzz and a revolving door of A-list talent since its inception in 1994, The Women isn’t so much incompetent – though it has all the visual sumptuousness of a suburban rummage sale – as it is hopelessly tame and muddled. It certainly doesn’t help that the movie’s lead is completely lacking in the mature glamour that so entranced women filmgoers bracing for a world war and has had so much plastic correction that her features – all but the ingÃ©nue eyes – are immobilized (and this in a movie that sucks whatever laughs it can muster from the Botox-and-surgery subculture). Could that be Meg Ryan peering out from Goldie Hawn’s face? Since I have yet to encounter a Ryan comedy in which she fails to flap her hands while pulling on or peeling off woolly socks several fetching sizes too large for her dainty feet, it must be her.
Ryan is all wrong as a contented Connecticut supermom with a half-baked career who’s shaken to her core by the news that her husband is having an affair with a Saks “shpritzer girl” (Eva Mendes). Mendes certainly looks the siren part in a black bustier getup from which only the whip is missing, but that’s as close as this warmly sensuous young actress gets to the spitting venom that made Joan Crawford so wickedly funny in the original. Indeed, what makes this version so flaccid is the absence of a bona fide, double-talking vixen in the entire coven – and that includes Jada Pinkett Smith, trying way too hard for lesbian hardbody. As for the chief gossip herself, happily single magazine editor Sylvia Fowler: I’ve always pictured Susan Sarandon in the Rosalind Russell part, if only because she seems to have sprung fully formed from the same genetic material as the great (and similarly pop-eyed) actress. Still, Annette Bening is a perfectly fine choice, getting the best line when she sweeps in and says “This is my face – deal with it” before turning into a dithery ghost of Meryl Streep’s caffeinated werewolf in The Devil Wears Prada. Other than, interestingly, the truly older women (Candice Bergen as Mary’s mom, Cloris Leachman as a straight-shooting housekeeper, and a woefully underused Bette Midler as a much-married playgirl), that’s about as badass as anyone gets among this relentlessly well-intentioned lot.
As it happens, Cukor’s screenwriters, Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, also softened the bitter edge of Luce’s dialogue enough to allow audiences to identify with Mary’s desire to recover her prodigal husband. But they never lost sight of the fact that the play was satire. Turning The Women into a girlfriend-solidarity movie (English has called her remake “a love story between two women”) would have made Luce barf, but true to her roots in television, that’s what the director has done. It proves fatal.
Before you know it, The Women has shrunk to fit the sewing form of a movie of the week whose heroine is briefly floored by adversity before rising from the ashes, coifed Ã la L’Oreal ’cause she’s worth it, and fully employed with a little help from her BFFs. Hear her roar – or not. Cripplingly sensitive to its market potential, The Women hedges its bets, leaves its options open, and covers every possible female demographic base before wilting into a gooey, maternity-ward finale.
Off the top of my head, I can think of several gifted interpreters of women on the verge – Nicole Holofcener (Lovely and Amazing), Tamara Jenkins (The Savages), or even Mr. AlmodÃ³var himself – who could have planed away Luce’s viciousness without losing her satirical edge. Understandably, English – who put in the hard labor to bring her baby to term – wanted to direct. But she’s the wrong person for the job, and, willy-nilly, she has reduced one of the wittiest women’s comedies ever made to just another ho-hum chick flick. Lord knows, this summer saw enough of those.
Film Review: The Women
Bottom Line: This remake needs less sisterly solidarity and more jungle red
By Stephen Farber
Sep 9, 2008
Opens: Friday, Sept. 12 (Picturehouse)
This summer, two mediocre female-centered movies — “Sex and the City” and “Mamma Mia!” — drew huge crowds because they appealed to an underserved audience. Will ladies of a certain age also flock to see writer-director Diane English’s pallid remake of “The Women”? If they do, it will be further proof that women are so eager to see their concerns depicted onscreen that they will tolerate very clunky filmmaking.
Clare Boothe Luce’s play was a hit on Broadway in 1936, and audiences loved the bitchy 1939 movie version directed by George Cukor and starring Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford. This time, the script and direction let the actresses down.
English’s update keeps the basic story — contented wife and mother Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) is shattered when she learns her husband is having an affair with shopgirl Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes) — as well as the all-female cast; there isn’t a single man on camera. A few of the best lines from the play and old movie are retained along with the name of Crystal’s favorite nail polish, Jungle Red. But English tones down the catfights in order to celebrate sisterhood. The changes particularly hurt the character of Sylvie Fowler, played by Russell in the original and Annette Bening here. The gossipy, high-powered Sylvie has become less devious and more of a true-blue friend. This might please feminists, but it undermines the drama.
The film repeatedly sacrifices dramatic punch for political correctness. Bette Midler has a delicious cameo as a much-divorced Hollywood agent known as the Countess, but her role is badly truncated. In the original, the countess helped Mary take revenge against Crystal, but that final payoff is missing from the new “Women,” which sags when it should snap.
There’s another major problem. It’s impossible to understand how the four main characters — Ryan, Bening, Debra Messing (as a housewife with a brood of kids) and Jada Pinkett Smith (as a haughty lesbian columnist) — ever became friends. They all seem to come from different worlds. Mary and Sylvie are supposed to be college pals, but Ryan looks a decade younger than Bening.
The actresses all have moments when they show what they can do. Ryan is engaging, and Bening does get a chance to deliver a few zingers. Messing is wasted until the final childbirth scene, when she reveals her flair for physical comedy. Candice Bergen, who played Murphy Brown for English, contributes a stylish cameo. (Trivia buffs might remember that Bergen and Ryan played mother and daughter once before — in Ryan’s first movie, “Rich and Famous.”) As Mary’s crusty housekeeper, Cloris Leachman steals every scene she’s in. Yet they are all poorly served by the flat pacing. These women are ready for action, but the fur never flies.
Cast: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman, Debi Mazar, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen.
Director-screenwriter: Diane English.
Based on the play by Clare Booth Luce and screenplay by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin.
Producers: Victoria Pearman, Mick Jagger, Bill Johnson, Diane English.
Executive producers: Jim Seibel, Joel Shukovsky, Bobby Sheng, James W. Skotchdopole, Bob Berney, Carolyn Blackwood.
Director of photography: Anastas Michos.
Production designer: Jane Musky.
Music: Mark Isham.
Costume designer: John Dunn.
Editor: Tia Nolan.
Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.
The Women: The vagina dialogues
Chick flick lacks girl power
By Curt Holman
2 stars. Directed by Diane English. Stars Annette Bening, Meg Ryan. Rated PG-13. Opens Fri., Sept. 12. At area theaters.
Cartoonist Alison Bechdel, creator of the memoir Fun Home and the comic strip “Dykes to Watch For,” coined an elegant approach to finding female-friendly movies. In a 1985 installment of the strip, a character mentioned that she only watches a film if:
1) It has at least two women in it,
2) Who talk to each other,
3) About something besides a man.
Writer/director Diane English’s remake of The Women scores high on the Bechdel Test. The cast features no men at all, just A-list actresses such as Meg Ryan and Annette Bening. The title characters do little but talk to each other, although their other primary activities involve the buying, wearing and even the designing of clothes. And, hey: Some of their conversations don’t involve men whatsoever!
George Cukor’s original version, adapted in 1939 from Clare Booth Luce’s hit play, shows some of its age and takes a little too much pleasure in portraying females as either catty gossip junkies or plaster saints. It’s nevertheless fast and funny enough to be a prime example of vintage screwball comedy, a film genre far more satisfying than the contemporary chick flick.
A relative novelty in 1939, movies about female friendship have become far more common thanks to the success of films such as Steel Magnolias and Sex and the City. The latter clearly informs the remake while throwing the need for an explicitly man-free movie into question. English botches her attempt to bring The Women into the 21st century, and substitutes weak jokes and mushy uplift for the original’s spirited, if sexist, wit.
The Women’s alpha female is Sylvia Fowler (Bening), the sharp-tongued, unmarried editor of a fashion magazine. Before she shows her face, we see her point of view Terminator-style as she shops at Saks Fifth Avenue. A gabby manicurist tells Sylvia that a perfume-counter hottie, Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes), is sleeping with a well-known financier ”“ the husband of Sylvia’s best friend, Mary (Ryan). Mary and her friends’ aghast reaction contains some snobbery: “A spritzer girl?”
The revelation makes Mary question her storybook marriage, which features a palatial suburban house, undemanding design career and spunky young daughter Molly (India Ennenga). Mary’s friends rally around her, although her mother (Candice Bergen) cautions Mary to keep mum to save her marriage. Ryan seems unable to shed her cutesy, America’s-sweetheart shtick, so she sends Mary on a fairly dull journey to self-actualization. Essentially, she makes a “What do I want?” scrapbook and, once she’s finished, everything falls into place with the ease of a fairy tale.
The Women provides a slightly more complex portrayal of contemporary femininity as Sylvia struggles with work pressures and an apparently shatterproof glass ceiling. Bening can primp amusingly in a mirror, but also delivers in the film’s rare weighty moments as Sylvia makes painful compromises to her principles. Plus, Bening’s bonding moments with young Molly provide the sweetest, least predictable beats in a film that’s shackled to chick-flick stereotypes.
English should know her way around clichÃ©s, having created “Murphy Brown,” a sitcom that streamlined feminist issues for the TV audience and even prompted a public feud with then Vice President Dan Quayle. English’s writing hasn’t evolved since the show debuted in 1988, however, and The Women’s wisecracks creak. Mary complains about the meals at a women’s rural retreat: “You need the Hubble Telescope to see what’s on our dinner plates.”
The Women definitely needs some kind of high-tech optics to resolve its ideas of how women should perceive themselves, which should be the primary justification for a man-free film. Characters pay lip service to the idea that bad media messages undermine feminine self-esteem. Beanpole Molly frets that she’s fat, while Sylvia wants to launch a smarter magazine less enslaved to appearance and youth. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty affixes its seal of approval to the film and teases an online ad after the closing credits.
But the film offers a suspiciously idealized view of female appearance. The zaftig ladies from the Dove ads prove conspicuously absent among the film’s body types, unless you count Bette Midler’s noisy cameo. When Ryan and Mendes confront each other while wearing lingerie in a dressing room, Ryan’s cleavage holds its own against Mendes’ more youthful frame: They’re both practically perfect. As Mary’s housekeeper, Cloris Leachman may be the film’s only actress unashamed to show time’s effects on her face.
The film holds up Mary and her pals as “real women” (including Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett-Smith), but they’re all attractive celebrities playing roles who have no trouble affording an exorbitant, name-brand New York lifestyle. The Women endorses the same kind of label-porn as “Sex and the City,” and the closing credits thank so many designers, it’s like the endless scroll of special effects technicians after a sci-fi epic. The Women’s true ideal turns out to be Saks Fifth Avenue, a temple that preaches the gospel to go forth and spend, spend, spend. Perhaps the Bechdel Test should be amended to deduct points for rampant materialism.
Sept 9, 2008
A Picturehouse release and presentation, in association with Inferno and Double Edge Entertainment, of a Jagged Films and Inferno production, with Shukovsky English Entertainment. Produced by Victoria Pearman, Mick Jagger, Bill Johnson, Diane English. Executive producers, Jim Seibel, Joel Shukovsky, Bobby Sheng, James W. Skotchdopole, Bob Berney, Carolyn Blackwood.
Directed, written by Diane English, based on the play by Clare Boothe Luce and the 1939 motion picture screenplay by Anita Loos, Jane Murfin.
Mary Haines – Meg Ryan
Sylvie Fowler – Annette Bening
Crystal Allen – Eva Mendes
Edie Cohen – Debra Messing
Alex Fisher – Jada Pinkett Smith
By PETER DEBRUGE
A cheating husband, a backstabbing best friend and more estrogen than an Emily’s List fundraiser may have struck B.O. gold for “The Women” back in 1939, but prospects for this pseudo-feisty remake feel iffy at best today. True to the original, Diane English’s 21st-century spin features a strict no-boys policy, though she does little to update the material to the modern world. Like being locked in a closet full of cats, the old-fashioned all-girl scenario ensures the screen isn’t the only place men will be missing. Female interest should be strong, but don’t expect “Sex and the City”-size turnouts.
English (“Murphy Brown”) has rounded up as diverse a cast as possible, as if hoping each actress will snare a different demo. There’s Annette Bening as a Kim Cattrall-style career girl, Meg Ryan playing handy housewife to a Wall Street tycoon, Debra Messing as a perpetually pregnant baby-maker and Jada Pinkett Smith representing multiple minorities as their Sapphic soul sister. After asking auds to believe in such a mismatched sorority, the screenplay bends over backward to keep men out, examining their behavior in girls-only habitats, from fat farms and garden parties to lingerie stores and lesbian bars.
Pic slavishly preserves key plot points from the original, however anachronistic they seem in the modern world. It all starts when a blabbermouth manicurist at Saks Fifth Avenue spills the beans that the vixen behind the perfume counter (played by Eva Mendes) has landed a new sugar daddy, not realizing the rumor will soon get back to the man’s wife, Mary Haines (Ryan).
In Clare Boothe Luce’s original play, that bit of news catalyzes a storm of backstabbing and one-upswomanship among a close-knit circle of upper-crust dames — the perfect fodder for biting social satire — but English isn’t out for blood. Here, the news brings the group of friends even closer together as they advise Mary on whether she should leave her (unseen) husband or confront the hussy who stole her man.
Bening plays Sylvie, the editor of struggling beauty magazine Cachet — essentially a watered-down Miranda Priestly. When one of her assistants pitches an all-revenge issue, Sylvie dismisses the idea as outmoded. Indeed, this reimagining of “The Women” is less about getting even than about inspiring that same mushy sense of female empowerment you might find in a Tyler Perry meller, complete with manic mood swings and full-blown diva moments.
But even there, English struggles trying to create the kind of feel-good experience that seems to come so naturally to femme helmers like Nancy Meyers and Nora Ephron. This isn’t one of those instant chick-flick classics that will draw viewers back in every time they come across it channel-surfing. Much of the behavior feels unnatural (there’s a funny bit in which Mary binges on a stick of butter after kicking her husband out of the house, but other gags simply don’t work), and there’s just no reconciling the movie’s preoccupation about Botox and facelifts with the heavily doctored appearances of its leading ladies.
Confounding the matter even further is the involvement of Dove, an extension of the company’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” and an example of new horizons in product placement. Sylvie not only uses Dove lotion but also finds it romantic that Mary’s philandering husband describes his wife as smelling like soap.
Messing and Pinkett Smith have very limited screentime; cameo appearances by Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman, Carrie Fisher and Bette Midler (as well as newcomer India Ennenga as Mary’s daughter) get nearly as much play as these two underwritten members of the movie’s central sisterhood. Ryan and Bening fare better: Bening’s right at home in the skin of a working professional, recalling aspects of her perf in “The American President,” while Ryan exudes much the same no-nonsense charm of her “When Harry Met Sally” days. Neither role is a stretch, but they play to both actresses’ strengths.
English’s most significant improvement on the original is her point that a “breakup” between best girlfriends sets everybody back even more than any cheating husband could. She also cooks up a far better justification for the movie’s big fashion show. On the fashion front, “The Women” delivers from head to toe. Opening montage introduces all the characters by their signature footwear, and auds even get two Ryan hairstyles for the price of one (though like the performance, both are variations on earlier roles).
Music choices aren’t such a good fit, with Mark Isham’s jazzy score making this estrogen fest feel a bit frenzied in the spaces between Chris Douridas’ mostly forgettable pop-tune picks. A signature song would’ve gone a long way to remind auds that these four incredibly different women have a lot more than man trouble in common. With: Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman, Debi Mazar, India Ennenga, Jill Flint, Ana Gasteyer, Joanna Gleason, Tilly Scott Pedersen.
Camera (color), Anastas Michos; editor, Tia Nolan; music, Mark Isham; music supervisor, Chris Douridas; production designer, Jane Musky; art director, Mario Ventenilla; costume designer, John Dunn; sound (Dolby/DTS/SDDS), Tom Williams; assistant director, Christopher Surgent; casting, Amanda Mackey, Cathy Sandrich Gelfond. Reviewed at ArcLight Cinemas, Los Angeles, Sept. 2, 2008. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 114 MIN.
Meg Ryan’s Guru’s Hidden Message in Movie
It’s all about Oprah right now. The first news is that Oprah will tape her big Olympic special in Chicago on Wednesday with all the Olympians. “American Idol” winner David Cook is going to be the only musical performer on the show, which airs Sept. 8 and kicks off Oprah’s new season. More on that in a minute.
The other news is that Oprah’s guru, Eckhart Tolle, has a hidden message in a new film opening Sept. 12. The movie is a remake of George Cukor’s timeless classic, “The Women,” produced by and starring Meg Ryan, the actress who first turned Winfrey on to Tolle’s New Age teachings.
Even though “The Women” is directed by Diane English from her own screenplay, I was tipped off during Tuesday night’s screening by a keen observer: there in the middle of “The Women,” Meg’s character, Mary Haines, learns how to overcome her husband’s infidelity and father’s insensitivities and achieve fame, success and wealth. She must visualize this sentence: “What do I want?”
And so she does, with the words tacked up everywhere and spelled out suddenly in the middle of this story. It didn’t mean anything to me at first, but of course, this is Tolle’s New Age crock pot calling card. It’s right there on his own Web site, the whole menu of his simplistic gobbledy gook: his book, “The Power of Now,” “wanted to be written.”
Tolle is clear about his philosophy: “Many times in my life it has been my experience that the most powerful starting point for any endeavor is not the question what do I want, but what does Life (God, Consciousness) want from me? How do I serve the whole?”
Ordinarily I might object to a little dose of New Age voodoo in a film – it’s a little like another of Oprah’s favorite things, Jessica Seinfeld’s veggies hidden in more desirable food. But the remake of “The Women” is so otherwise lightweight and disjointed that a little Eckhart Tolle is almost welcome. Almost.
Diane English, creator of “Murphy Brown,” is a funny writer but a director of feature films she ain’t. Unlike “Sex and the City: The Movie,” these “Women” have nothing to bind them to each other.
Meg plays Mary, whose husband, Steven, is cheating on her with a “spritzer girl” at Saks, played by Eva Mendes. Annette Bening is her best friend, a women’s magazine editor whose job status is precarious.
The other women include Candice Bergen as Meg’s snarky mom (who almost steals the movie), Debra Messing as her earth mother suburban friend, Jada Pinkett Smith as her black lesbian friend and Cloris Leachman as her sarcastic housekeeper.
It’s unclear how or why these women are friends, particularly Pinkett’s Alex Fisher. They are simply thrown together. In the original 1939 film, The Women were of one social milieu; it was of a high class, and the salon in the department store where they gathered was like their club.
But in this “Women,” each character is meant to represent something different. In fact, they have little in common with each other. And the idea of a manicurist (Debi Mazar) in Saks in 2008 repeating damaging gossip to every client about their friends is preposterous on many levels.
As the women in the audience pointed out Tuesday night after the screening, no women at this level go to Saks to get their hair done. Frederic Fekkai or Jose Ebert, maybe yes, or Bergdorf’s. And the manicurist certainly has been replaced by the personal trainer or yoga instructor.
English has gone so far to replicate the original movie that she’s missed the point. Ironically, “Sex and the City” was “The Women” updated. But this movie has been in development for 12 years. It was like a slow-moving train in the distance while “SATC” just whipped through the station. English wasn’t going to abandon her project, but adhering so closely to the 1939 edition leaves the 2008 wanting for contemporary meaning.
In the original, for example, Mary divorces philandering Steven but still wants him, even after he’s married his mistress. By the end of the movie it’s clear the couple will be reunited. English sticks with this premise 70 years later. The new Mary has learned nothing from the old one. What does she want? Even though she writes it out all over the place, you leave the theater never really knowing.
Still in all, “The Women” has strength in its performances and in English’s dialogue. There are a number of good laughs. Bette Midler is welcome relief as Leah Miller, a take-off on real-life former super Hollywood agent Sue Mengers. Carrie Fisher is cute and scary as a Cindy Adams gossip columnist. (Hedda Hopper played herself in the ’39 version.) And Meg Ryan, battling the specter of her old persona and whatever she’s done to her face, acquits herself especially in a funny kitchen scene.
But of all these gals (there are no men in the movie), it’s Bening who really pulls it off. You could have seen her as Mary, too, but she plays Sylvia, the editor. Bening has such a grasp of her character, and such an innate elegance, that she whips each of her scenes into shape no matter what’s going on. Her career and life dilemmas seem more real and immediate than Meg’s/Mary’s, and you kind of wish the movie were about her instead.
Fall Movie Preview
‘The Women’: 14 Years in Hollywood’s No Man’s Land
One movie! One zillion actresses! Inside director Diane English’s long, tortured trip to bring her remake of a 1939 classic all-gal comedy to the silver screen
By Missy Schwartz
Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan. Fifteen years ago, no two actresses in Hollywood had greater pull. They were bankable powerhouses capable of generating $100 million-plus at the box office. They collected paychecks upwards of $8 million per role, among the highest in town. And in 1994 they decided to test their strength as a duo, signing on to co-produce and costar in New Line’s remake of The Women, the classic all-gal comedy about betrayed wives and backstabbing friends, directed in 1939 by George Cukor. Diane English, the Emmy-winning creator of CBS’ Murphy Brown, would update the script. James L. Brooks, the Oscar- and Emmy-winning filmmaker, would direct. It was a mid-’90s dream team of talent that also included Blythe Danner, Candice Bergen, and Marisa Tomei, whose career was on the rise following her 1993 Oscar win for My Cousin Vinny. When they all piled into a conference room on the Sony Pictures lot one day in 1996 for the first table reading, the result was ”amazing,” says Ryan. ”To be funny in a read-through is really hard, and those women were great.” Adds English: ”There was a point where Julia squeezed my knee under the table because she was getting laughs – big laughs. You could see she was having a blast.” By the time they reached the last page of the script, everyone was pumped up, sensing they had a potential hit on their hands. According to English, the overall feeling was, ”Let’s go! Full steam ahead!”
Unfortunately, the ship hit the rocks, and The Women fell apart. The agonizing experience that followed stretched over more than a decade, and involved innumerable script revisions and what seemed like the entire female membership of SAG. Only English remained fully committed the entire time, determined to prove that a movie with an all-woman cast wouldn’t be roadkill at the box office. ”I got plenty discouraged,” says English. ”People would say, ‘Just let go. It’ll never get made.’ When I heard the words can’t be done, it became a mission. I think that’s what it takes for some of these films, just one idiot who sticks with it for the whole duration, refusing to back down.”
Now, all these years later, she’s about to find out if her doggedness has paid off. On Sept. 12, Picturehouse will release The Women, a $16 million indie that English wrote, directed, and co-produced. True to Cukor’s original, it boasts not a single man on screen. Ryan stars as Mary, a rich housewife forced to snap out of her pampered haze when she discovers her husband is having an affair with a younger woman (Eva Mendes). Annette Bening plays Mary’s best friend, Sylvie, an uptight, high-powered magazine editor. Bergen appears as Mary’s face-lift-happy mother, while Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Bette Midler pop up as various supporting characters. No question, it’s a talented cast, but it skews significantly older than the group that assembled in 1996. (At that first table reading, Roberts was 28, and Ryan, 34.) The mature cast won’t help attract the much-coveted Facebook generation. Yet English is hoping that her movie will bring in the same folks who recently made cash registers ring for Mamma Mia! and Sex and the City. ”I keep telling women, ‘You can’t complain that there’s nothing to see! When a movie comes out that’s for you, you’ve got to go vote with your wallet.”’
NEXT PAGE: ”I would go from studio to studio with my list of female ensemble movies that have made a ton of money, like 9 to 5, First Wives Club, and Steel Magnolias,” English says. ”And always the response was, ‘Well, that was a fluke’.”
When Roberts and Ryan first announced that they were remaking Cukor’s classic, which starred Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Crawford, English immediately wanted in. ”I loved the funny conceit of no men,” she says. ”And because the original had a lot of old-fashioned ideas about women’s place in society, I thought, Okay, there’s a reason to remake it.” Everything seemed to be on track for a 1996 start date – until Roberts and Ryan became interested in playing the same role. To keep them both on board, English spent a year revising the script, which caused the air to leak out of the project’s tires. Brooks went off to make 1997’s As Good as It Gets…and never came back. Other directors dropped in and out, and New Line started going cold on The Women. As for Roberts, who eventually became an Oscar winner with a $20 million asking price, she too flew the coop. ”We kept in touch over all those years,” English says. ”But the timing was never right.”
By 2001, English decided that she might as well direct the picture herself, even though she’d never helmed so much as an episode of Murphy Brown. ”It was intimidating, but I thought, This is the only way to get this made,” she says. A few years later, she bought back her screenplay from New Line for a ”low seven figures.” All she needed was a studio to float the budget, which she’d slashed from $30 million to $20 million. ”I would go from studio to studio with my list of female ensemble movies that have made a ton of money, like 9 to 5, First Wives Club, and Steel Magnolias,” English says. ”And always the response was, ‘Well, that was a fluke’ and ‘No, it doesn’t pencil out for us.’ The feeling was, because it will attract one quadrant – women over 25 – that wasn’t enough.” Ryan was still on board (though no longer as a producer), but her drawing power had taken a hit after her affair with her Proof of Life costar Russell Crowe in 2000. And English still had to build the rest of the cast, which, at various points, was rumored to include Sandra Bullock, Ashley Judd, Uma Thurman, Whitney Houston, and Queen Latifah. (None were ever officially attached.)
Finally, after being turned down by every single studio in town, English pursued the last possible option: develop The Women as an indie. She teamed up with producer Victoria Pearman, the president of Mick Jagger’s production company, and rounded up a stable of actresses willing to take a pay cut. This included the three-time Oscar nominee Bening. ”Annette lent a great credibility to the project,” English says. The actress had never been a fan of the catty, sexist undertones of the original play, written by Clare Boothe Luce. ”But I liked that the retelling of the story was different,” Bening says. ”It’s really about female friendship.” More important, she says, ”I just thought it was funny.” When English pitched The Women to Picturehouse president Bob Berney in fall 2006, he saw the all-female cast as an asset. ”The unique idea of not having any men in the film was a great publicity hook,” he says. ”There’s always a risk involved with movies like this – like Diane hadn’t done a feature before. But hopefully, it was a smart business move.”
NEXT PAGE: ”Obviously ours is an older audience compared to Sex and the City. But even if The Women does a small percentage of what they did, it’s great.”
The note of caution in Berney’s hopefully isn’t something you often hear in Hollywood, where the order of the day is spin, spin, spin. But the movie is far from a sure thing. During production in Boston last summer, rumors circulated that Ryan and Bening often had to step in when English’s lack of experience behind the camera became an issue. ”Every now and then, both Annette and I would sort of interpret movie jargon for Diane,” Ryan says diplomatically. (English denies any on-set crises, but admits being grateful for her two leading ladies’ ”very strong presences.”) The movie came in on time and on budget, but when executives at Warner Bros. (which had absorbed Picturehouse) saw a cut earlier this year, they were reportedly not impressed. ”I’m not privy to all the conversations that took place,” says English. ”But I don’t think it was their cup of tea.”
That is, until a cosmo-swilling gal named Carrie Bradshaw changed their minds. After Sex and the City opened to a record $57 million in May, Warner Bros. gave Picturehouse an extra $25 million to market The Women to the same crowd. They also bumped up the number of screens it would appear on from 500 to 2,000. All summer long, the Women trailer has been playing with Sex and Mamma Mia! to positive response, which Berney takes as a good sign. ”Obviously ours is an older audience compared to Sex and the City,” he says. ”But even if The Women does a small percentage of what they did, it’s great. I’d love it if we did $9 or $10 million opening weekend.” That’s a long way away from the blockbuster-in-the-making English once had her heart set on. But after dedicating at least some portion of every day of the past 14 years to The Women, the movie’s very existence is a triumph for her. ”I don’t know what I’m going to do with this big chunk of time now!” she laughs. Actually, she’s already begun developing an adaptation of Erica Jong’s 1973 feminist best-seller Fear of Flying. ”It might be as tough to get made as The Women,” she says. Fortunately, she’s one determined director. Mark your calendars for 2022.
by Lisa Marks
Run for cover, here comes a female ensemble movie!
Who wants to make an American quilt? I don’t. Why The Women has to be brilliant or – more importantly – relevant
August 19, 2008 2:45 PM
I copped a lot of flak a few weeks ago for suggesting that maybe men and women needed separate movies. Well, hot on the designer heels of Carrie Bradshaw et al comes Nancy English’s version of Clare Boothe Luce’s play, The Women.
It’s a remake of George Cukor’s 1939 film of the same name, which was groundbreaking for its all-female cast (Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and Joan Fontaine to name a few). English’s remake has taken ten years to get off the ground and although it sounds great in theory, frankly, I’m scared.
I haven’t seen the movie so this isn’t a preview, more a fear-view. All I’ve seen is the trailer where our protagonist Meg Ryan and her flowing blonde tresses (both curly and straight) take centre stage, Eva Mendes looks drop dead gorgeous and various actresses of the vintage kind including Diane Keaton, Annette Bening, Bette Midler and Candice Bergen do their well-trodden older woman thing.
I just hope that something that is so clearly defined by gender also proves to be a film of substance and relevance in 2008 (and also that men want to see it because it’s compelling movie-making and not just because Eva Mendes looks hot).
Apparently the fact that it was an all-woman piece was the reason it took a decade to get studio backing. Why that was a problem in the Noughties and not the Thirties is beyond me.
Maybe women were seen as more relevant then because of their invaluable contribution to the Second World War, whereas these days women are simply polarising and a threat to male movie executives? Before you shoot me down in flames, I’m just throwing
it out there.
Strong female ensemble pieces (like strong male ensemble pieces) transcend gender. Steel Magnolias springs to mind, as does Waiting to Exhale. How to Make an American Quilt not so much, but it was a solid film with a good heart. And no, Valley of the Dolls doesn’t count.
These days the strongest female ensembles are found on the small screen. I could give you a good argument as to why Coronation Street was the first great example of that back in the Sixties but most people would point to The Golden Girls as the one that opened the way for Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City, The L Word and Cashmere Mafia. Defined by gender, but all of them great telly. Let’s hope that writer/director Nancy English, who was also a writer and producer on Candice Bergen’s Murphy Brown, can pull something spectacular out of the bag. We don’t want this to be the all-female movie that bombed, but the “younger woman steals another’s husband and the affair is the talk of Manhattan society” storyline is all a bit yawn these days, isn’t it? Maybe I’m wrong and it’s a timeless tale that lends itself to a hi-def re-telling.
English was told many times to “walk away” from the project because of its female bias, and to her credit she stayed the course because she passionately believed in the story. Let’s see if the box office agrees.
New York Post
ULTIMATE CHICK FLICK
by SARA STEWART
August 16, 2008 —
“Lawrence of Arabia” may be the most famous single-gender film ever: in 3-plus hours, David Lean’s 1962 desert epic features zero women in speaking roles.
But Diane English’s upcoming movie “The Women” goes one better, taking men out of the frame entirely — as did the original, campy 1939 version, starring Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer. “No men whatsoever,” says English. “Not even in the background. Not even as extras. No images, photographs, paintings.” In a summer that’s been all about comic book men and boys — Iron-, Bat-, Hell- — English’s film, opening Sept. 12, is a who’s who of Hollywood superwomen: Annette Bening and Meg Ryan , plus Jada Pinkett Smith, Eva Mendes, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher, Debra Messing.
“We were on the street a lot,” English says. “We had to photograph in a way that felt cinematic, but not so widely that you would see men driving in cars. We did a lot of aerial shots.” English even hired a mostly female crew to work on the movie.
Score one for female solidarity! The only potentially non-feminist element is the film’s storyline, in which a married woman finds out her (unseen) husband is cheating on her with a salesgirl. Indeed, the tagline for the original film was “It’s all about men!” But English swears she’s used the affair as a mere jumping-off point for her version, which celebrates female friendship and the ways in which a modern women can reinvent herself. “It’s a very different journey for [Meg Ryan] than there was for Norma Shearer,” she says. “Our motto is, ‘It’s all about the women.’ ”