The Austin Chronicle

The First Wives Club

Rated PG, 104 min. Directed by Hugh Wilson. Starring Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Maggie Smith, Dan Hedaya, Jennifer Dundas, Bronson Pinchot, Sarah Jessica Parker, Eileen Heckart, Elizabeth Berkley, Stephen Collins, Victor Garber, Marcia Gay Harden.

REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Sept. 20, 1996

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Hollywood hath no peer in depicting such women on screen. Where else could one see three talented, attractive actors like Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton reduced to plotting, scheming stereotypes? The latest film by director Hugh Wilson (Guarding Tess, Police Academy), based on author Olivia Goldsmith's bestseller, tackles that staple of Hollywood and upper-crust society, the first wife. Midler, Hawn, and Keaton play women who were best friends in college in the 1960s, but in the 1990s all they have in common are sleazy husbands who've replaced their wives with “younger models.” When another old college friend commits suicide for just this reason, the three friends are reunited and energized into revamping their lives and making their husbands pay. As a satire this film would be hilarious, but writer Robert Harling's (Soapdish) script doesn't quite hit the mark. There are certainly moments that appear to be satirical, but then they're buried beneath enough melodrama to make even a silent film star gag. At least in Soapdish, another of Harling's credits, the cast's over-the-top performances assure the audience that the film is being played mostly for laughs. But in The First Wives Club, there are few such telling winks at the camera. Of the three actors, Midler's role as the feisty Brenda Morelli Cushman has the best lines, delivered with Midler's trademark bravado. As the aging and much cosmetically-enhanced film star Elise Elliot Atchison, Hawn makes the most of her comically expressive face. Keaton's performance as Annie MacDuggan Paradise -- a woman for whom the phrase “I'm sorry” is second nature -- becomes the most tiresome, probably because the prospect of a 50-something woman with no self-esteem seems more pathetic than funny. The First Wives Club has a stellar ensemble cast and wastes them on a story that seems -- for lack of a better description -- so Eighties in its excess. In addition, the film is just plain goofy. I hope Midler, Hawn, and Keaton got paid Jim Carrey-like sums of money because nothing short of millions would justify such a waste of their talent. Surely this film will find its audience, presumably made up of women who've been there, done that. But for me, the only redemption worthy of The First Wives Club would be for the film to develop a cult following a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with audiences attending midnight screenings at Northcross Mall to perform Sixties girl group hits much like the film's (thankfully) few musical moments.

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