Reel Shorts | The Women

13 09 2008

It’s been ten years since “Murphy Brown” left the air and in her first project since, writer/director Diane English shows just how out of touch she has become with her gender in this all-star flop in the ultra-disappointing remake of the classic 1939 film, “The Women.”

After circulating around Hollywood for the past 15 years, this story of a group of women who try comfort their friend after they discover that her husband is having an affair is like a car in need of a tune up; many stops and starts, but the story never gets out of first gear.

Unlike the winning chemistry demonstrated in the fashion foursome, “Sex and the City,” this group of diverse friends simply grate on each other and more importantly the audience. Mary Raines is career-climbing socialite who doesn’t spend as much time with her husband as she used to. In the absence of quality time at home with her husband, she turns to her close group of friends led by bitch magazine editor, Sylvia Fowler (Annette Benning), free-spirited stay-at-home mom, Edie Cohen (Debra Messing) and lesbian artist, Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett-Smith).

But when the friends discover that Raines’ husband is having an affair with sexy “spritzer girl,” Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes) all hell breaks loose. In one of the few moments in the film that actually work, Allen’s introduction is captured with enough sex appeal to make men hide their “surge!” The remainder of the film is about overcoming relational tragedy and learning how to find yourself amidst life’s more challenging moments.

One of the problems with recreating the witty banter of George Cukor’s original 1939 film is that the politics regarding women have come along way in the past 70 years. Many of the jokes and situations that worked then have been shown and rehashed to the point where it is no longer cutting edge or shocking. English also gets the most unlikeable performance from Benning in her career. Her character’s back-stabbing, me-first, do-anything-to-win mentality may play well in presidential campaigns, but is not endearing in an ensemble comedy.

What saves the film from being totally unwatchable is that several actors “pop” in throughout the proceedings, provide the film a jolt of energy and simply disappear. Pinkett-Smith’s Fisher’s steals all of her scenes providing humorous commentary to the crazy shennanigans that seem to occur constantly around her. After she introduces her friends to a supermodel she’s dating, they ask why she has an attitude. “She’s hungry,” Fisher replies as the model nibbles on a napkin in the corner.

Further moments of levity also come in the form of housekeeper, Maggie (Cloris Leachman), rehabbing film producer/shark, Leah Miller (Bette Midler) and the all-knowledgable mother, Catherine Frazier (Candice Bergen). In the hands of each of these screen vets, English’s script momentarily comes alive and provides brief moments of hopes that this big-budget spectacle could be saved. But as soon as the film shows a little promise, the “flashes of light” are extinguished and once again we’re in the dark.

Ryan plays a more evolved version of her “When Harry Met Sally” character. While her friends try everything to protect and support her, there’s something about Mary that simply can’t keep her down. The irony of the film is while there is not a single man caught on a single frame of the film, their presence dominates the story. Whether trying to get over one or conceive one, their fingerprints are all over the story.

Unfortunately, English’s story just goes on and on . . . an on. For a woman, who a decade ago was one of the preeminent voice for all concerns female, English’s film feels like it’s living in the past. For a story, which is supposed to represent a year in the life feels just like what it is . . . and for a man who LOVES looking at women, that’s way too much for even me!

Grade: D




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