Directed by Diane English. Starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman. (2008, PG-13, 114 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 12, 2008
In a last-ditch effort to lure back her unfaithful husband, Mary Haines (Ryan) tries on high-end lingerie at a Manhattan boutique, only to discover that the mistress of the damned dirty cheating husband is slipping on unmentionables in the adjacent dressing room. Mary’s best friend, Sylvia (Bening), urges her to go over and confront the tart. “What do you think this is,” Mary snips back, “some kind of 1930s movie?” The moment is meant as an in-joke – The Women is a remake of the 1939 George Cukor film of the same name – but really it’s just a depressing reminder of everything this 2008 reboot is not. It’s not particularly fun, or funny, for starters. Sure, it shares the same gimmick (no men allowed), but it’s a low-rent substitute for the razzle-dazzle cast of the original (Rosalind Russell! Joan Crawford! Joan Fontaine! Paulette Goddard! Hell, even Hedda Hopper!). Certainly, Cukor’s The Women was of its time – these were society wives, bored and manicured and possessing of a small army of hired help. Tweaks would need to be made to modernize the thing, and director English has had 13 years in development hell with the project to bring it up to 21st century code. Well, Mary’s still a society wife, but now she’s overworked (poor thing only has two helpmates on staff). Her close coterie of friends includes a lesbian writer (Pinkett Smith, horribly hammy), a stay-at-home mom (Messing), and best friend Sylvia, an editor at a women’s magazine fighting tooth and nail not to lose her job to her younger, fitter, more cutthroat competition. The role of Sylvie comes the closest in spirit to English’s most famous creation, that of TV’s Murphy Brown – both single, unsentimental, piss-and-vinegar power players – but it’s disheartening, to say the least, that English’s former, admirable body blows at the culture wars have been downgraded to this confused seesaw between condemnation and celebration of plastic surgery. There, I said it. Usually, I’m loath to comment on an actress’ physical appearance, but there’s simply no way of avoiding it with Meg Ryan. I won’t pretend to understand the pressures attendant to aging in Hollywood, and there are no doubt legions of gorgeous women in the industry who, having acquired lines and soft sags, as all women do, have had work done. Most of those tucks and sucks and lifts and line-erasings we don’t know about. But on a few occasions, the transformation is so significant as to be surreal, and such is the case with Ryan. She’s always had a loosey-goosey, childlike quality to her mannerisms, and they were charming. Paired now, however, with a face off a factory line, Ryan’s screen presence has become a parody of its former self, and the effect is so off-putting that I lost whole stretches of the film to pure distraction. By the time her character has a sit-down with her post-op mother, face swathed in the tell-tale bandages of a new lift and played – egads! – by that onetime warrior for the single working mom, Candice Bergen, my mind was sufficiently blown. This is girl power? I’ll not have what she’s having, thank you very much, and I’m thinking about amassing a small army of my own to demand as much.