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
"The Women" uses the same character names and the plot skeleton of the 1939 George Cukor classic with the same title, but it is really more an alternate "Sex and the City" than an updated version the original. I found it neither as bad as its many detractors claim nor as good as its somewhat more limited number of fans make it out to be, but it's probably best if you are not terribly familiar with (or not a big fan of) the classic version. While that film has always been polarizing, even its critics recognize it has some of the snappiest, wittiest zingers in Hollywood history. Sadly, that sharpness is missing from the script of this film.
And then there's the cast. I don't envy any group of actresses setting themselves up for comparison with the sensational ensemble of the original. This cast sounds impressive on paper, but they never really gel. It took the "SATC" women several seasons of hard work to develop as individual characters that come together so smoothly. Ryan, Bening, Messing, and Pinkett Smith can't manage the same feat in two hours, especially not when saddled playing cardboard stereotypes representing different aspects of whatever the filmmakers think "the modern woman" is. Not one of these characters, for all the talents of the actresses playing them, ever actually felt like a real person.
That said, there's some life here, scattered scenes that are amusing or touching. The four leads are ably assisted, especially by Cloris Leachman and Candice Bergen, in beautifully played roles that ring true. And Bette Midler steals the too-brief chunk of the movie she gets, giving us a hint of how brass and sassy a genuine attempt at updating "The Women" might have been. Unfortunately, Eva Mendes then comes back on screen, reminding us of how beneath Joan Crawford's Crystal Allen her version is, and how much this movie pales in comparison. (Not that it's all Mendes's fault -- true, she's no Joan Crawford, but her role here is a shadow of what Crawford got to sink her teeth into.) If you like chick flicks (I'm a guy, but I tend to) and you're not hoping for anything close to the original, then give it a go. Just don't expect too much. Everyone else, don't waste your time.
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