Monday 17 September 2018

Movie Review: The Women (2008)

A social drama with a comedy sprinkling, The Women adapts the classic play to tackle 21st century issues.

The film is set in New York and Connecticut. Although she gave up on a fashion design career to look after her family, dedicated mother and philanthropist Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) believes she has the perfect comfortable well-to-do life. But her best friend Sylvie (Annette Bening), a high-powered magazine editor, learns from Saks manicurist Tanya (Debi Mazar) that perfume sales girl Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes) is having an affair with Mary's husband Stephen.

Sylvie and Mary's other friends Edie (Debra Messing) and Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith) are torn whether to tell Mary; she finds out anyway, straight from Tanya. Mary's mother Catherine (Candice Bergen) encourages her to wait before confronting Stephen. Meanwhile, Sylvie is struggling to improve the fortunes of her fashion magazine, and finds her ideas out of touch with popular opinion. Mary eventually confronts Stephen and starts to re-examine her life, unintentionally heaping pressure on her teenaged daughter Molly (India Ennenga).

The play was written in 1936 and the classic film adaptation arrived in 1939. Here Diane English writes, directs and co-produces an update to the story of women navigating the choppy waters of family, relationships, careers, friendships, sacrifice and personal expectations. Once again the film consists exclusively of women in every role, including all the children and extras (and more than likely, all the pet dogs are also female).

The film delves into all the expected topics. Mary is forced to assess her own priorities, and whether she allowed her various roles to subsume who she is as a person. Crystal represents a case study in women who appeal to vulnerable men's most base instincts. Sylvie had one failed marriage and is now happily single and focused on her career, but has to reckon with her values diverging from what is popular, placing all she worked for at risk, including her friendship with Mary.

More superficially, the pregnant Edie is a baby factory, and Alex is a lesbian, the only one among the friends blissfully going through life unconcerned by men. Young Molly is struggling with body image issues and the fallout from her mother's disintegrating marriage.

Not that The Women offers any profound new thoughts, nor is it expected to. This is a polished, glossy and sometimes humorous representation of relatively wealthy and comfortable women, with all the depth of a monthly advertising-dominated magazine. For all the concerns and tensions at hand, self-empowered resolutions will be found for all, and English still finds time for the requisite fashion show montage and a baby delivery scene in a double-headed climax.

The cast members share the screen time, Ryan and Bening most prominent but never being asked to stretch. Heavyweight star power appears in the form of Carrie Fisher and Bette Midler providing single-scene support, while Cloris Leachman as Mary's housekeeper contributes resigned comic relief.

The Women freshens up the challenges, but does not stray too far from cushy and safe film territory.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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