New Line // 2008 // 114 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // December 21st, 2008
It's not about men anymore...it's about beauty without brains.
Well, the Hollywood remake machine seems to have come to an end for 2008. Two classic movies got a modern makeover, with one (The Day The Earth Stood Still) currently doing quite well at the box office. Unfortunately, writer-director Diane English's updated version of The Women didn't fare well critically or commercially, so how well does it hold up on Blu-ray?
Manhattan woman Mary Haines (Meg Ryan, When Harry Met Sally...) seems to have it all: a wealthy husband, a lovely lakeside home, a beautiful daughter and many friends who love and support her through good times and bad. However, a turn for the worst comes when Mary learns from her manicurist-for-the-day Tanya (Debi Mazar, Be Cool) that her husband Stephen is screwing a sexy shopgirl named Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes, Ghost Rider).
Of course, Mary is the last one to hear of this adulterous revelation, as friends Sylvia Fowler (Annette Bening, American Beauty), Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith, Reign Over Me), and Edie Cohn (Debra Messing, Hollywood Ending) kept it to themselves after a harmless little gossip chat. Soon, Mary seems to go through a female existential crisis, kicking her husband out and eating whole butter sticks in her spare time. Will she go ahead and divorce her husband or give the guy another chance?
Dear Diane English:
You're one talented woman, I tell you. My dad and I were huge fans of Murphy Brown back in the day, as you treated single motherhood with a biting sense of humor. You truly created sitcom gold, and the glow would last a good decade. So, needless to say, I was actually looking forward to your remake of The Women even though it seemed like another excuse for Hollywood to churn out an update of a classic movie rather than look for something original. I knew it would be difficult for you, Ms. English, but I was certain -- considering your resume -- you would be able to pull it off.
So, imagine my surprise when I found your version of the The Women so jaw-droppingly awful it qualified for my list of the ten worst films of the year. Seriously, what the hell was this, some kind of sick joke? The supposedly "all-star" (nod to colleague Appellate Judge Tom Becker, as it's truly impossible to write about this film without the use of quotation marks) cast felt uncomfortable throughout this mess. The film's sense of humor was not only wrong in tone and delivery, but just unfunny under any and all circumstances. And what about those embarrassing attempts at irony to make the film more clever and profound? Were you seriously trying to honor or insult the writer of the original play, Ms. English?
Come on, now...you know as well as I do that Clare Boothe Luce wrote The Women as a social satire, a way of ridiculing the foibles of a bunch of rich bitches with way too much time on their hands. Unlike you're supposed and alleged "re-invention," Luce crafted a brilliant comedy of manners, which superb feline symbolism topped with tasty jungle-red sauce. The 1939 film adaptation directed by George Cukor wasn't perfect, but it had a marvellous ensemble of actresses who understood what Luce's themes were inside and out. Didn't you know making a contemporary version wouldn't be easy, as the themes are now hopelessly dated? Plus, if this is seriously your idea of a modern feminist fable, then you need some serious therapy. While the original movie was about a woman discovering the real game of marriage and using it to her advantage, this movie is all about emphasizing beauty as the solution to all of women's problems. (More on this, later!)
Believe me, Ms. English, I knew you were faced with a challenge here, and the route you took was obvious: update the 1939 movie to the Sex And The City generation. I don't think you truly realize, however, the travesty which emerged and the blame must be placed on your offensive script. Let's see...allow me to bring up two examples which worked perfectly in the original film but are so atrociously handled here it's unbelievable. In the first, Crystal is on the phone with Stephen and lets him now how much she misses him while Sylvia, Alex, and Edie look on placidly. In the original, Crystal (played by Joan Crawford) flirts on the phone while her co-workers delightfully mock her; this was in the back room, with Mary's friends outside already knowing the information without listening to the conversation. So, why -- in your version, Ms. English -- did you not only throw them in the scene, but also make them looked surprised (with a host of unfunny, goofy faces)? The second scene is a key moment when Mary confronts Crystal in a store while trying on clothes. In Cukor's version, the meeting was by chance and the unexpected encounter leads to some awkwardly hilarious moments. In your version, you go for the cliché of having Crystal say "how awkward it is" and you go overboard with a frickin' music cue when Crystal says her snappy closing line. Soon after that, this version of The Women just gets worse and worse and worse, leading to utter disaster with a giant headache included.
Your lame attempts at irony are another major demerit. At one point, Ryan asks her on-screen mother (played -- again -- by Candice Bergen; both were also in 1981's Rich And Famous as mother and daughter), "Are we in some '30s movie?" Oooh, a double dose there which was just pointless and stupid! Or, how about the moment where an amazingly annoying Bette Midler comes out and says she always has fake orgasms in front of Meg Ryan. Strike #2, Ms. English. Here's the real kicker, however: Candice Bergen having plastic surgery in front of Ryan, who already had the same procedure done in real life several years ago. For a movie which claims to be pro-feminist, this is almost like setting back women's rights by at least 100 years. Remember those old home economics books which gave girls advice on "looking good for your man, make sure he notices you, wear sexy clothes all the time, use the best cosmetics we advertise in magazines"? Just when you think it won't get any worse, you actually have the ovaries to have Ryan's teenage daughter feeling she isn't pretty, then have her skip school wearing garb which would more appropriate to a prostitute? What kind of messed-up message on empowerment are you trying to give to America's female youth? As if Britney Spears and Hannah Montana haven't done enough damage in that department!
I understand completely you want us to love your female characters, but I found it impossible to do so. Luce hated her characters (inspired by real-life high-society women) because of their malicious gossip and ends up mocking them, the dialogue written with an acid pen. Here, you try to make all of them witty and act like they love each other when in fact they were meant to be dishonest and duplicitous to the nth degree. As a result, you end up completely contradicting every one of Luce's intentions when she originally wrote the play! With this film, we not only hate the characters but are not amused at all by their materialistic ways of life. (Sunglasses with interactive shopping tips? Give me a friggin' break!) Also, the gimmick which you borrowed (*cough* stole*cough*) from the original of having no male cast members was something which comes off as mildly sexist today. In 1939, it was bold, daring and original, especially in a time of patriarchal power; now, it's just a gimmick with no point. (FYI, I could see some male waiters in long shot in one restaurant scene, so there you go!)
Finally, the entire cast may have shown talent in other projects, but they are all seriously wasted here. All of them have no resemblance with real individuals whatsoever, and come off as gross, stereotyped clones of Luce's original characters. Meg Ryan's comic ability has all but disappeared. Annette Bening tries hard, but is trumped by English's cringe-inducing attempts at funny jabs. Jada Pinkett Smith is simply incomprehensible as the lesbian author, and veterans Bergen & Midler may find their careers end sooner they think. The worst of the lot, however is Eva Mendes; forget about Crawford comparisons, as the former music video star is showcased here only to look good in underwear, with English insisting on dipping the camera so we could see every curve. I guess this is supposed to be more misplaced irony on beauty is everything; needless to say, I'm voting Mendes for a Worst Supporting Actress Razzie award.
Honestly, Ms. English, I don't know why anyone would want to own The Women on Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 non-anamorphic print (in 1080p) is largely undistinguished, but it does boast with reasonably bright colors and a complete absence of grain. Flesh tones are fine (if also tight and shiny), with detail and contrast acceptable. Seriously, unless they want to see Ryan's facelift in high def, I would advise them to stick with the regular DVD version, wouldn't you agree? The DD 5.1 audio is very good for the most part, with no hisses and pops detected, with an equal balance among the front and back speakers. Still, dealing with Mark Isham's feel-good score is nauseating from the get-go, as it's clear you wanted us to love these shallow, hypocritical characters for no reason.
All of the extras, aside from some additional scenes, are all in high-def. Those extras comprise of two featurettes, with one harmless and the other shameless. The first, The Women: The Legacy, running eighteen minutes, give us an too-brief overview of Luce, her play and the 1939 movie before going into the usual onslaught of cast/crew interviews giving nothing but praise for the project. The second extra, "The Women Behind The Women," is basically an extension of the product placement imposed by Dove soap to generate "real beauty" by increasing self-esteem and empowerment in young girls. I can't put it into words how tasteless and despicable this featurette is, and I give props to my aforementioned colleague Appellate Judge Tom Becker, for adequately describing how this featurette "propels this disc from just plain bad to contemptible." Seriously, Ms. English do you feel our pain? Probably not, but it's cool.
What happened to the Diane English of Murphy Brown? It's amazing how one of the best TV female writers around not only depends on somebody else's work to make her feature film debut, but turns it into a gigantic gob of gossip gruel which would be more at home on the Lifetime Channel.
The court sentences the film and its maker to a lifetime of writing Luce's play word-for-word in the locked basement of Sak's Department Store.
Court is adjourned!
Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 EX (English)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Additional Scenes
* "The Women Behind The Women"
* "The Women: The Legacy"
* IMDb: The Women (1939)
* IMDb: The Women (2008)