Not at TIFF – with good reason – Diane English‘s “The Women” opens this Friday. And will likely close the Thursday after. Essentially because I’m starting to seriously burn out here in TIFF-land and haven’t been posting as much as I should, I’m posting the review I wrote for the film for this month’s Exclaim! magazine.
Directed by Diane English
As a montage of shoes “representing” the characters about to be depicted graces the first few minutes of The Women, its clear that we’re in for trouble. Its an awkwardly obvious homage to Sex and the City, which this film is likely to stand deep in the shadow of. Both The Women and the Sex movie share basically the same concept: Four successful New York women’s relationships with themselves and each other are tested by various dramatic (and privileged) circumstances. While Sex was certainly not devoid of critical issues, particularly in its tired plotlines, shallow characters, and worshipping of materialism, at least it was fun. The Women, on the other hand, not only extends on Sex’s problems, but is also a joyless bore.
The Women is a remake of George Cukor’s 1939 classic of the same name. In development hell since 1996, it finally made it to the screen care of the only two women that stuck by it ever since, writer-director Diane English and actress Meg Ryan. With English’s career dead since Murphy Brown (which she created), and Ryan struggling to resist the direct-to-DVD bin, its not hard to see why. But they fail in achieving anything that might revive their careers, and bring a slew of usually capable actresses down with them. Obviously sensing the problems, many actresses stayed away (Julia Roberts and Uma Thurman had once been attached), so the new Women does not even come close to the Norma Shearer-Joan Crawford-Rosalind Russell triad of yore. But somehow, Annette Bening signed on as Ryan’s best friend, Candice Bergen as her mother, Eva Mendes as her husband’s mistress, and Jada Pinkett Smith and Debra Messing as her other friends, a lesbian and a mother respectively.
Like Cukor’s film, not a single male character graces the screen in The Women. Not even an extra. It’s an interesting concept, even 70 years later, but unfortunately English doesn’t quite know how to update it. Sure, there’s iPhones and internet, but the themes and narrative struggle to really say anything, feeling dated and irrelevant. One infuriating example comes in Pinkett-Smith’s Alex, for whom they double-dip the minority-inclusion by having her be the only black or homosexual character. Except unlike the other main “women”, Pinkett-Smith doesn’t even get a plotline. There’s a few mentions of her struggling to write a second novel or dealing with an unruly girlfriend, but nothing gets developed. The other characters also use her homosexuality as an excuse for poorly written humour or mildly homophobic sentiment. They comment about how “they’re never letting Alex pick the restaurant again” when sapphic art is covering its walls, and often announce how they “accept” her homosexuality as if they are being exceptionally tolerant.
The worst part about The Women is how it wasted a real opportunity to explore the homosocial, intergenerational relationships between these women. It could have been the thinking (wo)man’s Sex and the City, finding a way to take the historical relevance of the 1939 version and translate it to today. Instead, The Women somehow makes Sex look profound. And that’s saying something.