The Women

The Women


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Despite being based on George Cukor’s 1939 film of the same name, starring Joan Crawford, the main influences for Diane English’s film are much closer to home and much less cinematic – namely Sex And The City and Ugly Betty.

This is oestrogen central, with not so much as a whiff of testosterone allowed anywhere near the all-female cast – not even in the background. As a central conceit this ‘no men permitted’ approach may well have worked for the original but here feels contrived, although this is the least of the film’s problems.

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So, let’s start with the one ray of hope, the cast. These ladies are big-hitters, from Meg Ryan (whose pout is making her morph into Lesley Ash and would be better with trout taken out) to Annette Bening, Cloris Leachman and Candice Bergen – yet even they cannot lift this film above the pedestrian.

Ryan is Mary Haines a fully-fledged modern mum, although she walks in the sort of moneyed stratosphere few of us will ever reach. Hubby Steve, one of the many unseen men, works on Wall St, while Mary spends her time drawing fashion designs for her dad, taking care of her kid (India Ennenga – who is worth looking out for in the far-superior Frost) and organising charity bashes. She is helped in her everyday tasks by housekeeper Leachman and a Danish au pair Uta (Tilly Scott Pedersen) – whose presence seems to rest purely on being the butt of ‘Danish’ stereotype jokes (you’re better off watching The Producers if you want to see that done with finesse) – but it is her pals, of course, who really glue together her existence. Bening is woman’s mag editor Sylvia – just imagine Sex And The City’s Samantha without the sex-drive – Mary’s bestest friend in all the world, while Debra Messing’s ditzy Earth Mother type Edie and Jada Pinkett Smith’s one-note lesbian make up their close circle.

When Sylvia hears from a manicurist at Saks department store that Mary’s husband is doing the dirty with “perfume spritzer” Eva Mendes it’s only a matter of time before things start to fall apart but Mary will have to find more strength than her friends and mum (Bergen) can provide.

English, who also wrote the script, has her roots in television writing (chiefly on her creation, Murphy Brown) and she never manages to lift this above the level of a below-par Saturday night comedy drama. If The Women was playing on Channel 4, over a series of five or six weeks, this could be forgivable, but as a cinematic experience it’s as dull and maddening as a bad dose of PMT.

It wouldn’t matter that there were no men involved if so much of the story didn’t rely on them. But by denying us any sort of access to Steve, the emotion sloshes about the place unconvincingly. If this is sisters doing it for themselves... they really should get a bloke in. Without seeing Mary channel her anger over the affair anywhere but at another woman – and even this is unconvincingly scripted - it’s hard to invest in the character. In fact, all the characters are so woefully thin and one-note - particularly Eva Mendes' vixen - that it's hard to know who to care for the least. The one bright light in the whole affair, if you’ll pardon the pun, is Bette Midler’s depressingly brief cameo role as a five-time divorcee who believes in selfishness.

If it were on television, one could also forgive the dreadful product placement – Dove must surely own the rights to someone’s first born after this. But at least on a small screen this sort of thing would be relegated to the snippets around the advert breaks. Everyone knows it’s tough for women over the age of 35 to get decent scripts in Hollywood but that is no excuse for acting in this sort of sub-standard stuff. All in all, it really is about as funny as adultery.

Reviewed on: 14 Sep 2008
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The Women packshot
A woman turns to her friends for support after discovering her husband is having an affair.
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Director: Diane English

Writer: Diane English, Clare Boothe Luce, Anita Loos, Jane Murfin

Starring: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman, India Ennenga, Tilly Scott Pedersen

Year: 2008

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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The Devil Wears Prada
Sex And The City