Dir: Diane English. US. 2008. 114 mins.
Diane English, the creator of hit 80s TV sitcom Murphy Brown, set herself a tall order for her theatrical directing debut - remaking George Cukor's classic 1939 ensemble starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell. So long in the making that it feels like something out of the pre-Sex And The City early 1990s complete with a mop-headed Meg Ryan as the leading lady, the new Women is only mildly entertaining and pales next to the still-sparkling Cukor film with its crackling dialogue and bitchy betrayals.
English has tried to take out the back-biting between these women and present some more positive role models who aren't so dependent on their men but fend for themselves. So here the Rosalind Russell character - a mercilessly catty society wife in the original - becomes a successful single magazine editor whose one betrayal of her friend is redeemed by remorse and tears. It's a huggy feminist spin which is inappropriate to the material and one which has been superceded anyway by Carrie Bradshaw and her friends who offer a far more relevant view of relationships between contemporary women.
The starry cast and the subject should cash into the wave of female-targeted movies which saw women rush to see Sex And The City and Mamma Mia! this summer. But The Women is not nearly as much an event as those movies and initial excitement in the marketplace will fizzle out fast.
The story remains roughly the same. Mary Haines (Ryan) is a happy society wife living in a big Connecticut pile with her adoring husband (we never see any of men in the film) and daughter Molly (India Ennenga). Her best friend Sylvie Fowler (Bening) is one day having a manicure at Sak's Of Fifth Avenue when her big-mouthed manicurist Tanya (Debi Mazar) tells her that her friend Crystal Allen (Mendes) of the perfume counter is having an affair with Mary's husband Stephen.
Mary finds out about the infidelity, also from Tanya, and her mother (Bergen) advises her to stay calm and forgive him. But although she tries to keep it to herself, it is soon splashed all over The New York Post courtesy of an indiscreet conversation between Sylvie and gossip columnist Bailey Smith (Fisher) in the gym. Mary promptly seeks a divorce from Stephen.
Once she has hit rock bottom, Mary starts to rebuild her life, pursuing her dream to design her own fashion collection and sets out to reconcile with her alienated daughter, her friends and maybe her husband.
English has made key changes to the original play and film, some necessitated by the changes in society, others to accommodate her touchy feely vision of the material. The extended Reno trip in the first film is now a short scene in a health spa with a cameo from Bette Midler as an oft-married Hollywood agent. The fashion show in the original at which all the women congregate becomes a fashion show designed by newly empowered Mary (Ryan) here. The gossip-driven scheme by Mary to unseat her rival at the climax of the original is foregone here in favour of a hysterical love-in in the delivery room as Debra Messing's character gives birth. Ironically, one of English's boldest changes - that one of the women (Pinkett Smith) is an unapologetic lesbian - comes off as a tired device to be modern. There's even a didactic message about how young girls shouldn't be influenced so easily by the skinny supermodels they see in magazines.
The tenor of the film is problematic. English struggles to keep any of the zingy pace of Cukor's film (even though his was 19 minutes longer), and the dialogue-heavy scenes feel flat in comparison. There's also a distinct lack of gloss to the whole affair - DP Anastos Michos shoots it like a TV movie, while none of the costumes, makeup or hair befit the glamour these women should reek of.
Shukovsky English Entertainment
(1) 310 598 2550
James W Skotchdopole
Based on the play by Clara Boothe Luce and the 1939 film written by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin
Jada Pinkett Smith