Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Women: Grade B

The Women (2008)
Meg Ryan, Annette Benning, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman; Co-writer & Director Diane English.

The dialog is still funny in this update of the 1939 classic comedy. Meg Ryan learns that her husband is having an affair with a shop girl (Mendes). Her girlfriends, especially Benning, give her copious advice. Now on her own (although still wealthy) she discovers that she doesn’t have to be a wife to be a person, so she starts her own fashion business. She resolves to get a divorce but can’t sign the papers. It turns out she wants to be married after all. Who could have guessed that?

The original film was fascinating for showing idle rich women in the midst of the Great Depression, and also because back then, women really were little more than wives, so breaking free to be a female person was a radical character development. All that context is gone in this movie, leaving only witty dialog, and it’s witty in a jokey, sitcom way, without the acerbic tones of the original.

The modern characters are brain-dead and the story a catalog of banality. Despite its ostensible celebration of women’s independence, this film does the cause a disservice by stereotyping its characters’ concerns around clothing, food, children, babies, marriage and domestic matters. There are no men in the movie but a male definition of the world is built-in, whether in ogling Eva Mendes’ butt or by having men and marriage be the psychological hub of life.

The acting is nothing special although it is fun to see so many big names. Bette Midler’s cameo is a high point. Jada Smith’s performance is seriously grating. There are some nice directorial touches. The silly dialog and cheap sentimentality make this light, empty-headed comedy an amusing diversion.

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