Tuesday, December 20, 2011

You Can Love The Ladies, But The Women Still Has Drastically Mixed Messages.

The Good: Decent acting, DVD bonus features, Message
The Bad: Aimless plot, Unlikable characters, Simplistic resolutions and arcs
The Basics: In another remarkably average "chick flick," a woman left by her philandering husband learns to stand on her own two feet with the help of her closest friends.

Early in my relationship with my wife, I was given a lot of information which I quickly assimilated. One of the things I learned right off the bat was that she had a particular loathing for "chick flicks." So when, last New Year's Eve, she was raving to me about the chick flick she was watching, I was instantly intrigued. What film could be so great as to completely upset her prejudice against the entire genre? Well, it was The Women and until she came into my life, everything I had heard about the film was homogeneously bad. So, when we were taking a night away from my Best Picture project (check that out here!), I was surprised when the film she truly wanted to see was The Women. She was so eager to share it with me and given that I had subjected to many films that she had had no interest in seeing, I felt it was the least I could do.

Unfortunately, while there were elements to admire in The Women there were sufficient problems with it to leave me feeling disappointed in the movie. The Women is a remake of a film by the same name and the first element to praise about it is also the first gripe about it. The entire cast of the film is made up of women; there is not a single man in the entire film. The concept of this is wonderful . . . until one considers that the characters are walking around the city of New York. New York City has men in it and even in places like Sak's Fifth Avenue, one is likely to see men, even if they are just being tugged along by their shopping women. As well, the "woman power" ideal of casting only women for the film is completely undermined when the credits roll and it is clear director Diane English was not able to get all of the production work done using only y-chromosome free help. As well, The Women uses far too many stereotypes about women and while there is a decent amount of character development throughout the movie, some of the elements are disappointingly stereotypical as opposed to genuine.

Mary Haines works for her father, making clothes she would never wear, while married to a famous stockbroker whom she seldom sees. Her best friend, Sylvia, a magazine editor, is getting her nails done when the beautician mentions in smalltalk that her friend is having an affair with Steven Haines. Sylvia opts not to tell her friend and instead tries to figure out what to do next, confiding only in their mutual friend Edie. Following a soiree at which Mary, Sylvia, Edie and Alex (the token black and lesbian of the bunch) network, Mary is fired by her father and she soon discovers her husband's infidelity (ironically the same way Sylvia learned of it). Separating from her husband, Mary and her daughter struggle to find their place. This is made even more difficult for Mary by the fact that Sylvia - in an attempt to keep her own job - confirms a story about Steven's mistress to a gossip magazine.

As Mary attempts to launch her own clothing line, the strain of not having Sylvia in her life builds. At the same time, Sylvia experiences pressure from work and actually takes on something of a mentor role to Mary's daughter. As the unveiling of her line of clothes nears, Mary has to choose whom to forgive and whom to cut out of her life.

There is strangely little ambiguity in The Women; the film mostly just reinforces that there are all different types of women, just as there are all different types of men and people of different ethnicities. Yes, "people are people" seems to be the enduring message of this film, even if they are all women. Not all women are victims, women who have been cheated on get over it and women do their fair share of cheating on men, too. These are all pretty obvious and The Women does not add anything new to the concept. This is also why I am so down on the film.

The Women has ample opportunity to make a statement, to say something about women and how they treat one another and what makes women great. Instead, more often than not, the movie reinforces the Hollywood (and male) ideal of woman. So, while Mary insists that her daughter does not need to go on a diet, she is thin enough, the film reinforces the ideal that, well, thin is ideal. There's not a big woman in the film, they all look Hollywood beautiful. The closest exception is Bette Midler and she's accepted in Hollywood because she is a diva and at her age, she can get away with it. While The Women is decent about including a wide variety of age ranges for the women - Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler and Candice Bergen work alongside the younger cast of Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith and Eva Mendes - Diane English is not so charitable to women who are not below size ten. Nowhere is this more clear than when Mary's clothing line is revealed. Mary utilizes the typical skinny models . . . what does that say to her daughter, who is in attendance? Moreover, the clothes she designs are equally as impractical as the idealized women who are modeling them.

The Women is a comedy and most of the humor is derived from situations and a sense of over-the-top outrage to them. So, for example, when Mary learns of her husband's affair the four women present begin talking over one another and Mary's whole part is to look exasperated and react. I don't, actually, recall laughing once, though I know I smiled.

The Women has a strong cast, with the likes of Meg Ryan (Mary) and Annette Bening (Sylvia) leading them, but there is no standout performance that makes the viewer feel like they are seeing something new from any of the actresses. So, for example, having only seen a few episodes of Will & Grace, Debra Messing's idea of comedy where she bugs her eyes out and looks frazzled was utterly unimpressive to me; like Meg Ryan playing a generally strong female protagonist, this was nothing new.

On DVD, there are two deleted scenes, a commentary track and a featurette comparing this new version to the original. But none of these are enough to make me recommend the film or truly see the spark that excited my partner so much about this movie. As one who sees a lot of films, this was, at best, average.

For other “chick flicks” be sure to visit my reviews of:
Ghost Of Girlfriends Past
Easy A
Dear John


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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