Based on a very clever comedy by Claire Booth, wife of Time Publisher Henry Luce and later Ambassador to Italy. One of the surprises was an all-woman cast, novel in the 1930's. And although there were no men in the cast, most of the dialog was about them. The story is rather thin and depended on the fact that divorce, in the 1930's, was not only difficult but almost impossible in New York. Mrs. Stephen Haynes learns that her husband is seeing a salesgirl at Saks, and reluctantly divorces him, abetted by her friends, all of whom have romantic problems of their own. In the 1930's New York women who could afford it went to Nevada, where residency could be established quickly and divorce was relatively easy. The 1939 film, starring Norma Shearer, Paulette Goddard, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Crawford, was a hit. This one, with an even better looking cast, is definitely not, largely because someone tried to move a 1930's situation comedy into the present. Written by
I believe an entire book can be written about the odyssey to remake the classic film on which this film is loosely based. When Hollywood first started talking about such enterprise, the reaction was always negative because there were just too many aspects that could have gone wrong, starting with the solid ensemble that made the original unforgettable, and that's exactly where things begin souring here, with the selection of actresses that otherwise can do remarkable work, but that are not suited to the parts, and sadly enough, have been directed with the heavy hand of a director that doesn't understand or appreciate the source material.
It seems as if there is no focus or direction, or as if the direction that has been taken is to obliterate anything that was good about the original film. This is called an updating, as in let's drain the story out of humor, snappy dialogue, and any interesting premise. Most of all, let's prove that women have come a long way, except that the problem is that we don't really get (at least by watching this film) where the women are truly going.
For starters, casting Meg Ryan in the central role proves almost fatal to the movie because somehow she seems to have locked herself into some sort of limbo where women don't really change appearances, even after 20 years of working in the movies. Her Mary which proved to be a difficult role in the 30's, somehow grew from her interaction with the other stereotypes, like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz" by learning, observing, and realizing that she had a choice in the matter. It might not have been a choice that women would celebrate nowadays, but it was fun ride, and part of the fun, was the catty, silly, sometimes slapstick routines that elevated that movie into the realm of the sublime. In here, we are down to earth with a thud. By changing the nature of Sylvia, the film has lost a lot of its spark, and it isn't in anyway Annette Bening's fault. I couldn't help but admiring how she tried to save this sinking ship and got a sinking feeling as she struggled with the horrible lines she was handled. Thankfully I entertained myself by looking at some of her terrific outfits and kept reminding myself how talented this lady really was. Her Sylvia is wise but flawed, and she could have been a great creation. Unfortunately Ms. English wasn't paying attention to her own work and loses control of the one character that could have turned the film into a fresh direction.
Yet that wasn't the biggest blasphemy of them all. In the original, we have Joan Crawford doing probably one of the best performances by a woman. Her Crystal is legendary, with conniving lines, incendiary moves, duplicitous maneuvers, and some very sexy poses. She was the link between the male and the female, and through her we knew what the whole catastrophe was about. She provided the tension between men and women. She was dangerous, sexy, the ultimate femme fatale. A woman of intelligence that we feared and admired, and most importantly, we wanted to destroy to save our heroine. Eva Mendes, as gorgeous as she is, is two dimensional in this outing because of weak writing, and once again, some bad casting.
There are more atrocities in the film, such as the addition of a terrible role for Mensing as the dedicated mother who lives for having babies, and the rather annoying lesbian turn by Pinkett. Then comes the biggest waste of talent in the movie, as Bette Middler, who is a little unrecognizable in her make up, shows the spark of what could have been. Her acidic delivery reminds us of the contemporary angle the film could have taken. Her words revive and put a big of much needed naughtiness in the film, and it is exciting to see that it could really fly, then she is gone. She is in the film all of six minutes, and she fades away in the middle of the muddle.
Here is a movie that raised our anticipation level and truly disappointed us, a film that could have joined the successful "Sex in the City" who made an amazing transition to the big screen because it respected its source material and didn't compromise. It gave us more, bigger and better adaptation. It truly updated what had made it successful before. "The Women" in its present reincarnation needs to go back and rework itself, much like "The Hulk" did it this year, find more suitable performers, a really good writer, and most of all, someone who truly treasures what good movies are about.
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