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September 10, 2008 > Movie Review: The Women

Movie Review: The Women

By Heidi Leung

Yet another movie celebrating powerful middle-aged Manhattan women, "The Women" mostly just makes growing up seem scary. There is no joy in the lives of its characters, just stress from marriage, jobs, and children. Worse still, it aims to capture intrigue with a circle of friends who could not be more different, and not in a way that works in real life, not even in the fantastical world of film.

Mary Haines' (Meg Ryan) picturesque life includes a golden retriever, a daughter, a rich Wall Street hedge-fund manager husband, a gorgeous Connecticut home, and a great group of girlfriends. She also has a job as a part-time designer for her dad's firm expecting that someday, the business might be handed down to her. Her best friend, Sylvie Folwer (Annette Bening), is editor-in-chief of Cachet, a fashion magazine which rivals Vogue, a powerful position which she has fought for all her life. The other two women in their friendship circle consist of Edie Cohen (Debra Messing), a consistently pregnant housewife who is the peacemaker of the group, and Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett), a lesbian novelist, who always tells it like it is.

When Mary finds out her husband is cheating on her with a gorgeous perfume girl (Eva Mendes) from a gossipy manicurist at Saks Fifth Avenue, her friends come to her rescue. However, Sylvie has problems of her own. Cachet isn't doing very well and in order to save her job, she needs a gossip columnist named Bailey Smith (Carrie Fisher) to write for the magazine. However, Bailey Smith, who is looking to expose the world of high-profile Wall Street marriages, wants Sylvie to give her access to Mary's personal life in exchange for her services, which Sylvie grants to save her career. More hurt by her friend's betrayal than by her husband's affair, Mary takes some time to soul-search, which lands her in a women's health camp. There, she meets Leah Miller (Bette Midler), a Hollywood agent who's very brief advice to be more selfish, changes Mary's life.

The noticeable roster of formerly successful "chick" flick stars, in this case, is an indication of the fact that the people behind this film knew they'd have a hard time drawing people to watch it. The only time that "The Women" ever gets interesting is when these random side-characters appear; even then, they are only on screen for a very short time. Luckily, the star-studded side cast helps keep audiences awake with sporadic injections of good acting. Bette Midler grabs a few well deserved chuckles playing Leah Miller. Candice Bergen, who plays Mary Haines' mother, is never disappointing as a sarcastic and melancholy character. Cloris Leachman, is a pleasure to watch on screen even if her role doesn't serve a very important purpose. Debi Mazar, who plays the gossipy manicurist, is adorable. Even Eva Mendes, the villain of the film, is more likeable than the two main characters. The two "other" best friends, played by Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett-Smith are completely unnecessary to the plot. The script is badly written with cheesy lines and bad character development.

The two actual starring roles belong to Meg Ryan and Annette Bening, who have absolutely no chemistry as best friends. Mary Haines is supposed to be a high-society woman by birth, not just by marriage. Not only should she know how to act more appropriately, she should know how to look the part. For most of the film, she looks like a mess, running around with muddy rain boots, a wrinkled trench coat, and a tangled weave of curls. Her whininess does not add any more sympathy to her character. Meg Ryan was sorely disappointing because her performance in "The Women" is best described as Meg Ryan's character in both "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You've Got Mail," only now, she's richer, older, and emotionally weaker than ever, especially because her so-called best friend and her do not even have a good connection.

Annette Bening's portrayal of Sylvie is aggravating to watch. As a fashion editor, she looks haggard and spits out as many pretentious lines as she possibly can, at one point staring a five year old square in the eyes saying, "Honey, no one hates Saks." Also, the writers try too hard to validate the character's fashionable status by having her name drop designer's non-stop. With no actual goods to back up all the talk, the movie is horribly styled, even just as horribly made-up. Perhaps the actress offended the cinematographer or the make-up artist because the opening shot of Annette Bening is a focus on her eye bags and chin wrinkles. Her appearance may have been overlooked had she actually been a nice character but she is mostly just easy to hate. Maybe the success of "The Devil Wears Prada" has created a stereotype that all fashion editors must be condescending.

Based on the 1936 play by Clare Booth Luce and then the 1939 film adaptation by George Cukor at MGM, "The Women" was a mockery of the society women who would betray each other for men. Diane English who created award-winning show "Murphy Brown," is responsible for the re-make of this mediocre film. Though she had planned to preserve the wittiness of the original, she wanted to make the issues that were dealt with more relatable to modern day. She did a wonderful job with "Murphy Brown," but her talent for snide and witty feminine humor does not translate well onto the big screen. She might also have done better if she didn't decide to dabble in the new Hollywood stereotype about the fashion industry. All in all, this movie is mostly a rip off of "Sex and the City:" a four person friendship comprised of four very different women in their forties and up, set in Manhattan albeit with added country homes to make up for older age and more money, fashion but very badly done, and lots of high heels.

Runtime: 1 hr. 54 mins.
Rated PG-13

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