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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Women (The)

Dear Readers, I simply must talk with you about The Women, the new movie playing at the Essex Cinemas. My perfect husband joined me over the weekend at a screening, defying his gender’s fear of what they call “chick flicks” to spend some time with me. There is a terror amongst men, kind of like the Candyman curse, only in this incarnation, instead of saying “Candyman!” five times and bringing down horror and woe upon your head, men believe that if they see more than five movies in a calendar year which star women or feature women’s issues they will be cursed, and by “cursed” I mean that exactly the same way women have used the word for hundreds of years. Even so, my brave, gallant husband, who has already joined me at The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Mamma Mia!, Sex and the City, and Made of Honor this year bucked the curse and joined me at The Women.

It was a tad embarrassing for him when we both realized that in an audience of about a hundred he was the only one there with a “dangling participle,” as it were. Once the theater darkened though, the embarrassment was no longer his. Now it belonged entirely to Diane English, former writer, director and producer of tv’s “Murphy Brown” and now heading up
The Women in these same capacities. Personally, I enjoyed the movie for what it was, but it should have been called Murphy Brown’s Daughter Grows a Pair or something like that. To allege that this is a remake of the 1939 George Cukor directed film The Women starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Joan Fontaine, and Rosalind Russell is like saying that because Big Momma's House had a fat black woman (sort of) living in a mansion down south as a premise and Hattie McDaniel was a fat black woman living in a southern mansion in another hit movie in 1939, then Martin Lawrence would have been justified in calling his comedy a remake of Gone With the Wind.

The Women bears an overarching plotline similar to the original, but comparing a story about infidelity made nearly 70 years ago with today’s standards is ridiculous. English’s cast bears little resemblance to Cukor’s except by character name, if their characters existed in the 1939 original at all. The main stars competing for screen time are Meg Ryan (The Deal) as Mary Haines and Annette Bening (Running with Scissors) as Sylvia Fowler. Mary is the in many ways the center of the story, as the wealthy trophy wife and mother who discovers her off-screen husband is cheating on her with a trashy perfume spritzer from Saks named Crystal (Eva Mendes; We Own the Night). Bening’s Sylvia is Mary’s best friend and so she is there to offer her support, along with Mary’s other gal pals Edie Cohen (Debra Messing; Lucky You) and Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith; Reign Over Me). How these very different women ever got to be friends is anybody’s guess, but I’m going to go with drug rehab. They all look like the only thing they share in common is a long lost love for the nose candy, if you ask me. I know you didn’t, but I’m still sayin’.

Sylvia appears to be the only one of these women who actually holds a job, though she spends less time in her office than I do in my kitchen, and I store old books in my oven so that ought to give you an idea about how often I cook. Poor Sylvia. She is a fifty-something editor of a trendy twenty-something slanted fashion magazine which is sinking faster than the Titanic under her ‘old-style’ regime. For a movie that supposedly strikes a feminist pose by having absolutely no penis-bearing individuals on-screen throughout the movie, even in the largest of crowd scenes, it strikes a sour note that most of the time Sylvia is at work she is on the phone to her male boss begging, pleading and sniveling not to be fired. It isn’t pretty.

I spent a lot of the movie less paying attention to the minimal plot and focusing more on the actresses and the fact that they and English have collaborated on a piece of snappy, witty repartee
without once considering that there is absolutely nothing believable about the situation of these characters as it relates to 99.9% of the audience. All of the women here are fabulously rich, thin as willow branches, dress in designer clothes, have cosmetic surgeons on speed dial, drive gazillion-dollar cars, and live in modern day castles. They drink chi-chi cocktails, are trés liberal about simply everything because when you have everything you can afford to be, and their resolution to life’s greatest problems inevitably involves an expenditure on a holiday away or a major credit card purchase far beyond the means of the rest of us.

Perhaps this is the life Candace Bergen (Sex and the City) really lives. I don’t particularly care, but I was happy to see her again, this time as Mary’s mother, Murphy Brown. Wait, no. That’s not right. Her name is supposedly Catherine Frazier, but the words out of her mouth are pure “Murphy Brown.” Candace/Catherine/Murphy has a small role overall, but she gets more laughs per line than almost anyone, probably because if anybody knows how to write for Bergen it has to be longtime collaborator Diane English.

The biggest laugh-getter all around though is 82-year-old Cloris Leachman (Beerfest), who seems to be enjoying a career renaissance of late now that she has signed on as a contestant on tv’s “Dancing With the Stars.” Here she plays the Haines’ family housekeeper, Maggie, and, like all sitcom domestic help, she knows more about what’s going on in her employers’ lives than they do. She and the nanny (Tilly Scott Pedersen; The Tides) sit around the house talking conspiratorially about what’s really important in all this comedic drama ~ whether they’ll lose their jobs if the Haines’ actually split. Meanwhile, they’re not above drinking the boss’ best wine in the kitchen while waiting out the employers’ grandest battle and listening to the war upstairs through the ventilation grate above the fridge. The least they could have done was find a way to share the Chablis with the audience.

Surprisingly, even though I found
The Women moderately amusing, my perfect husband absolutely loved it. He laughed louder than anyone in the theater. By the time the movie was over I was a little afraid of just how much he had been affected by the movie, especially when he immediately told me he “had to go to the powder room.” Dear God, had the chick flick curse struck after all? If he had started to menstruate I’d never forgive myself. After several nervous minutes of pacing the lobby (okay, I hung out at the counter and shot the breeze with longtime employees Kyle and Jess and didn’t give him a second thought, sorry, but it’s true), My Beloved emerged whole and with no need for any “mouse beds” or other “ladies’ products” as my grandmother so tastefully called them. We had successfully proved that the chick flick curse was a fraud! Now there is no excuse for any man not to accompany his wife or girlfriend to the movie of her choice ever again, unless, of course, it stars that thing called Lohan. I give everyone a pass on her crap. I’ll just say “You’re welcome” in advance for the advice on that one.

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