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The Women (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 120 minutes.

George Cukor’s 1939 film, from Anita Loos’s script of Claire Booth Luce’s 1936 play, “The Women,” was a scathing satirical indictment of upper class New York City women. Diane English has updated it to fit 21st-Century New York City. Unfortunately, English has dumped the idea of a satire. Instead, English, better known as the producer of the hit TV sitcom “Murphy Brown,” says she wanted to “celebrate women.” This is 180 degrees from what Luce, Loos, and Cukor accomplished, which was to skewer shallow Manhattan society women. As a result, this is a completely different idea. From a clever, biting commentary with real meat, English has just produced yet another chick flick of little or no import. English is so blinded by her feminism that she doesn’t realize that she has presented the women she wants to celebrate as the pretty much the same shallow airheads created by Luce & Co. If English thinks her movie “celebrates women,” that’s a pretty scathing indictment of her opinion of women.

English has the same problem that the creators of “Sex and the City” have, inability to write believable dialogue. Even though this is a comedy (alas, it never rises to the level of satire and to give English credit, she apparently wasn’t trying to be satirical), surely women don’t talk with each other like this. The woman who accompanied me to the screening, a professional woman who is also the mother of five, assured me they don’t, and she hated the film.

An additional problem for English, who both wrote and directed, is that she doesn’t know when to let well enough alone. This drags on for two hours when even ninety minutes probably would have been too much.

I mean, really, this is about how the illicit affair that the husband of Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) is having with Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes) affects her relationships with her friends, Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), Edie Cohen (Debra Messing), Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith), her mother, Catherine Frazier (Candice Bergen), and her daughter, Molly (India Ennenga). That shouldn’t take two hours.

Actually, there are some pretty funny lines in the film. What English needed was a good editor who could leave some of what she wrote on the cutting room floor. When a writer directs her own script, I guess it’s impossible to cut anything the writer wrote.

The film is entirely women. There is not one man in the film, period. Even the crew is virtually all female. This single-minded obsession to not have one man in the film (“I remembered the old movie…and how fun it was that there was not a man in sight,” says English) lessened the quality of the film because the film cried out for us to actually meet Mary’s philandering husband. Alas, ‘tis not to be.

The film starts out kind of slow with unconvincing bonding among the friends, then picks up throughout the middle part as Mary tries to deal with her husband’s infidelity and the betrayal of her best friend, Sylvie. Then it just drags on too long.

Even so, I enjoyed it, hard as that may to believe after reading what I just wrote. The acting is pretty good. Mendes stands out as the airhead mistress and Bening improves after a weak start. And, as I said, there are some funny lines.

September 8, 2008