A makeover gone wrong

Sept. 15, 2008, midnight | By Deepa Chellappa | 13 years, 8 months ago

Despite A-list cast, "The Women" lacks depth and originality

A remake of the celebrated 1939 George Cukor-directed film about infidelity, divorce and friendship starring Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, "The Women" is certainly entertaining, but fails to capture the social bite and catty spirit of the original. Director Diane English brings to the big screen a movie with little relevancy or insight. Instead of making a point about female empowerment, English makes women look vain and selfish while throwing in a few snappy one-liners to draw laughs from a primarily female audience.

One of the quirks of the movie is that men never make an appearance - not even as extras or voices on the phone. It's all women, all the time, as the movie's title suggests. The story focuses on the seemingly perfect life of Mary Haines (Meg Ryan), a fashion designer who has it all - a beautiful home, a rich husband and an adorable daughter. But all hell breaks loose when Mary's best friend, Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), discovers that Mary's husband is having an affair with the voluptuous "spritzer girl" behind the perfume counter at Saks Fifth Avenue. Mary and Sylvie's friendship is tested to the limits and the affair causes Mary's circle of friends to reevaluate their own love lives and friendships.

The movie is the quintessential chick flick, filled with catfights and shopping trips galore. The "modernized" humor of the movie, though, could easily have been borrowed from "Sex and the City," as most of the jokes are raunchy one-liners. While Mary gorging on a stick of butter dipped in cocoa powder after kicking her husband out of the house may be funny at first, the film's increasingly overdone gags simply don't work. And although the original film was intended as a mockery of society's elites and their frivolous lives, the remake only encourages and celebrates this superficiality.

Regrettably, English tries too hard to accomplish too much in the almost two hours of screen time. In no particular order, the film manages to touch on face-lifts, sexual techniques, career women who don't have time for their children, teenage girls with self-confidence issues, childbirth, men who can't handle women with full-time jobs, betrayal in friendships and, although it seems impossible, even more.

All of these issues would be difficult to handle for even the most experienced filmmaker, but English has never directed a movie before and it shows. The visual choices she makes are questionable because most of the movie consists of the same static shots, and other than the life the actresses manage to bring to the screen, the story line has a sense of flatness to it.

Despite the fact that their roles are ill-conceived, the women in the film are a pure delight. Ryan is convincing in her role as the overworked mom and Bening beautifully reflects the dilemma of a career woman who fears for the safety of her job. Cloris Leachman is hilarious as Mary's housekeeper, but it is Candice Bergman who steals the show as Mary's wise mother because she brings depth and humanity to the story. A post-face lift scene in which Bergman counsels Mary with her head in bandages is priceless and, unlike many other moments, actually genuine. This is refreshing in an otherwise stale plot, but it is agonizing to watch so many renowned actresses lend their charm and wit to a movie that has little of its own.

The estrogen fest that "The Women" embodies will undoubtedly attract the ladies, but the movie fails to achieve anything other than a reputation as a quickly forgotten, mildly funny flick that trips painfully over the three-inch stilettos its main characters so proudly wear.

"The Women" (114 minutes) is rated PG-13 for sex-related material, language, drug use and brief smoking. Now playing everywhere.

Deepa Chellappa. The high point of Deepa's life thus far occurred when she waved to Mickey Mouse at a Disney World parade and he blew her a kiss in return. Needless to say, she hates Minnie with a passion. In her free time, Deepa can be found … More »

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