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Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Women (2008)

I admit that I am prejudiced and that I will always prefer a classic film, especially from the landmark year of 1939, to a modern remake or "update". Unfortunately my normal net reaction to these is: 'Why did they bother'? I think it is safe to write that this feeling surfaces in spades for the above movie. The strange thing is that there has been talk for years of re-making the story, with a shifting roster of potential actresses, especially since it offers the prospect of juicy roles for actresses who might be considered slightly over the hill.

The final rendering here focuses on a group of four best friends (unlikely since they span a 13-year age gap) with the two main leads going to Meg Ryan playing a cheated-upon society wife and Annette Bening playing a childless and frantic-to-keep-her-job glossy magazine editor. The other two roles are taken by Debra Messing -- the most amusing of the bunch -- playing a serial baby machine in the hope of producing a son to add to her collection of daughters and Jada Pinkett Smith playing (for some unknown reason) a lesbian. Certainly neither Ryan nor Bening are shown to their best advantage, but at least none of the culprits are among the movie's producers. While they may be getting more desperate for roles, at least one can not accuse them of starring in a vanity piece, which is just as well considering the critical reception to the film.

The gimmick here as in the original stage play and the 1939 movie is that all of the roles are taken by women with nary a man in sight, even where you might expect to find them like on the street or as waiters. Men are reduced to unheard voices at the end of a telephone line, but ironically they still seem to be the ones who wield the economic power. Where the original film had something like 130 speaking parts for women, this movie focuses too heavily on the above four with the only other major (but thankless) role for Eva Mendes as the perfume salesgirl turned homewrecker -- and she is no match for the icy Joan Crawford from the original film. There are brief words of wisdom from Bette Midler and Candice Bergman as the 'older' generation, a neat turn from Cloris Leachman as Ryan's housekeeper, and a brief cameo from Carrie Fisher. The reworking has kept the action too firmly based in the New York City area, whereas the original moved out to Reno, and we soon tire of the needy leads. Even a fashion show, included in the original as indicative of the women's life style, is here turned into a vehicle for Ryan's empowerment. And the bit after the end credits -- if people hang around that long -- is embarrassing as the four leads philosophise on the joys of womanhood.

The film is not without a few pleasures. Messing's birth scene at the movie's end is fairly amusing and the script has a number of very sharp lines, although these are undone by the focus on the preening leads. Unfortunately the original closing bon mot about certain women being best described by a term normally only used in dog kennels is thrown away here in the opening minutes.
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