Sunday, September 14, 2008

FILM: The Women

I was curious to see how they would update the 1939 classic The Women, and I think writer / director / producer Diane English did a nice job with her 2008 version. (Apparently, there was a long story about getting this remake done.) Updating such an old classic is tricky, but she struck a good balance between keeping to the original and making it fresh. The basic storyline is the same -- an admired housewife's discovery of her husband's infidelity, her reactions and ultimate vindication. And the concept of a star-studded all-female cast is preserved: as in the 1939 show, it's fun to see all the stars, and clever to have a complete absence of men. Details of the original storyline are preserved in homage (Jungle red nail polish) and some of the memorable scenes are faithfully recreated (the discovery at the salon, the confrontation in the dressing room, the bathtub scene), but other aspects are brought into the 21st century. There are expected contemporizing of what would be anachronisms (the Nevada divorce ranch is a yoga retreat), but other updates are more profound. Whereas Norma Shearer was only concerned with getting her man and her marriage back, Meg Ryan's modern Mary Haines has layered worries about how to balance family life with creative and professional aspirations. The most significant change is that in the 1939 film, at least as I recall it, it was every woman for herself, whereas in this version, Mary has some real girlfriends (the modern Sylvia Fowler is her best friend, rather than a catty cousin), and her foursome of friends gang up on the "other woman". The friendship among these women is a major theme of this version, where it was nowhere in evidence in 1939. Call it the Sex And The City factor. Meg Ryan and Annette Benning are terrific in the lead roles, and nicely rounded out by Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith, and with Eva Mendes exuding provocative sexuality as the mistress. Nice contributions are also made by Candace Bergen as Mary's mother, Bette Midler as a Hollywood agent Mary meets at her yoga retreat, and Carrie Fisher as the gossip columnist. Some of the funniest bits came from Cloris Leachman's part as Mary's sardonic housekeeper, the Shakespearean wise fool for this fun comedy.

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