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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Women (review)

Sex and the Suburbs

And I thought the Sex and the City movie was appalling.

That was meant to be fantasy, of a sort. The Women is meant to be reality. But it’s a bizarre time-warp kind of reality, as if writer-director Diane English decided that a remake of a 1939 film might as well be accompanied by attitudes more suited to that era than to this one. I’m honestly at a loss trying to figure out whom this movie thinks is its audience: maybe our great-grandmothers… certainly no woman (never mind man) of the post-Betty Friedan decades. It is two-thousand-fucking-eight — does half the human species really need to be told, in terms that leave no doubt that the listener is surely to be considered a half-wit who deserves to be condescended to, that while spending his money may be fun, a well-rounded woman needs to not devote her entire life to a man and could, you know, maybe get a little job on the side or something? As kind of a cute accessory. It’s all the rage these days, you know.
The Women thinks it’s not doing that, thinks it’s all progressive and modern because not all the characters are obsessed with men — hell, one’s even a lesbian! But those other characters are merely the belt and scarf and handbag to the little Jackie O suit that is Meg Ryan’s (In the Land of Women, Against the Ropes) Mary Haines, a suit that was, perhaps, once chic, but has long since grown mildewed and mothbitten in the back of the closet. Perhaps one of the most unlikely, most phony, most annoying, most likely-to-evoke-in-real-women-a-desire-to-strangle-her character that The Movies has ever seen, Mary is a wealthy Connecticut housewife — she’s got servants! actual servants! plural! — who discovers that her famous financier husband is having an affair. Does she confront him and talk about it? Does she call a divorce lawyer? Does she have an affair of her own? Nope. She accepts the advice of her “smart mother” (Candice Bergen: View from the Top, Sweet Home Alabama), who tells her to simply ignore the fact that her husband is cheating on her, just act like it’s not happening. I mean, what else could she possibly do?

This is sort of horrifying: You soon start to realize that there isn’t a single male face in this movie. Here we are shopping in a major department store. Here we are lunching at a fancy restaurant. Here we are walking down a busy Manhattan street. And there’s not a man to be seen, anywhere. It’s like some terrifying episode of The Twilight Zone set on a planet where all the men have been taken down by a genetic apocalypse or something… and yet the women cannot ever shut the fuck up about them. I say this not out of hatred for men but out of love: how do you make a movie about how half the human race interacts with the other half… and entirely omit the other half? Women are not from Venus, and men are not from Mars — we’re all from Earth. But The Women think it’s being elegant and fresh by completely excluding the guys. So we can’t ever see Mary dealing with her husband — indeed, we have no basis to determine whether their marriage is even worth saving, because we never, ever see them together.

Instead, we have Mary and her friends, who consist of a catty, manipulative, passive-aggressive gang of female stereotypes that should have gone out with Ike. There’s the perpetual mother, Edie Cohen (Debra Messing: Lucky You, Open Season), who’s pregnant… again. There’s the man-hating lesbian, Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith: Reign Over Me, Madagascar)… cuz lesbians hate men, see? There’s the high-powered magazine editor, Sylvia Fowler (Annette Bening [Running with Scissors, Being Julia], channeling Diane Keaton), who likes men but only to use them: professionally, sexually, whatever. Mary can talk to them instead of talking to her husband, and they can plan catty, manipulative, passive-aggressive revenges for her over shopping expeditions and gossipy manicures and bitching about shoes. About as “modern” as the flick gets is one scene in a department store dressing room that reads as if it were right out of the comic strip Cathy. (Fluorescent lights? When you’re in your underwear? Ack!)

Much as with Sex and the City, it’s impossible to understand why these four very different women would be friends (or why Mary and Sylvia would be “best friends”). They have virtually nothing in common, and they don’t even seem to like one another. But that’s how women be, girlfriend!

I can’t stand any of these women. I hate that one character espouses the philosophy of the flick by dismissing hypocrisy as just one of those examples of life being “complicated,” as if there were no way a sophisticated, contemporary gal couldn’t be a hypocrite. I hate that they collectively represent the worst that women can be, and that we’re meant to love them not in spite of that but because of it.

If I hadn’t known this was written and directed by a woman, I’d have sworn it was the mean-spirited invention of a man who doesn’t know any women but despises us all anyway, on general principle.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for sex-related material, language, some drug use and brief smoking

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
  • MaSch

    While I hoped you would subtitle your review “teh womenz” or something similar (because then I would have won a bet … against myself) …
    While I don’t understand why this movie is above SatC in your ranking of movies 2008 if you compare it unfavorably to that movie …
    … I have to say that your review absolutely rocks! Thank you for it!

  • MaryAnn

    I’m gonna move this film down in the ranking. I learned to hate it more the longer I had to think about it.

  • Alli

    Honestly, over the past few months, I can’t figure out what most women think anymore. Maybe most women do act like the way we’re portrayed in this movie? I’m starting to think I’m a strange anomaly, because at 24, I do not want to be married, and I sure as heck don’t want to live off of my boyfriend’s income. In the past year, I’ve had more women tell me I don’t have to worry about having a career because my boyfriend’s in med-school than I have been told to follow my dreams. Maybe it’s because I live in West Virginia? But the more I follow the election, the more I realize just how out of touch I am with 60% of the people in this country. I don’t know what happened.

  • Alli~
    You’re not out of touch, there’s just such a huge divide between the types of women. Much like men, I’m sure.

    And, IF you should eventually settle down with a MD, please understand the amount of student loans racked up in med school and the length of time before a doctor actually starts making a decent income, makes for lean years in the beginning. Grey’s Anatomy may be a glamorizing TV show about love/sex in the hospital, but them all being roommates and/or living in a dingy apartment with stolen hospital “rick rack” is not so far off the actual mark.

    Plus, who would want to ust sit around all day in a house? UGH

  • Mimi

    Damn. This sounds as obnoxious as the trailer suggested. Disappointing, with all those famous actresses involved.

  • This is sort of horrifying: You soon start to realize that there isn’t a single male face in this movie. Here we are shopping in a major department store. Here we are lunching at a fancy restaurant. Here we are walking down a busy Manhattan street. And there’s not a man to be seen, anywhere. It’s like some terrifying episode of The Twilight Zone set on a planet where all the men have been taken down by a genetic apocalypse or something… and yet the women cannot ever shut the fuck up about them.
    –MaryAnn Johanson

    So at long last they finally produced a movie version of Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance. ;-)

  • Thanks for your review, MaryAnn! As always, you’re spot on. According to the official website of the film, and I hesitate to call it a film, Mick Jagger co-produced this film. Why on earth?

  • “…Mick Jagger co-produced this film. Why on earth?”

    perhaps he needed a tax shelter, a la “The Producers.”

  • Henry

    I expect this kind of shit from Meg Ryan and Sarah Jessica Parker…but Annette Bening? Say it ain’t so!

  • Marsha

    Great review!

    I love the original, which was witty, funny, and considering it was made in the 1930s, not hideously and ridiculously outdated, like this movie. I am willing to accept that women in 1930s, majority of whom did not work at the time in RL, would spend their time, if they had money, shopping and hanging out and taking about their spouse. I am not willing to accept that modern women, with jobs, are still only fixated on shopping and gossip. Especially since the original mocked such society ladies and their empty, gossip-filled lives (the reason they were ‘friends’ in the original is because they all belonged to the same small snobby social circle and were stuck with each other).

    I never understand the point of remaking a movie which was OK the first time around, and especially something as dated as “The Women” and your review proves my point.

    I also find it incredibly patronizing that this and SaTC assume that all women are fixated on marriage and clothes and that’s it. I am somebody who is married and does not wear burlap sacks but prefers clothes that fit, but neither I nor my friends occupy majority of our time discussing those topics. Ugh.

    Also, I’ve been reading your site for a long time and love reading your reviews whether I agree with them or not.

  • MaryAnn

    the original mocked such society ladies and their empty, gossip-filled lives

    This update could not get further from mocking its characters if it tried. And they desperately deserve to be mocked.

  • Cat

    Thank the gods! I couldn’t belive it when I saw commercials for this film. I thought “The Women”, that film made eons ago, why the hell would there be a remake of it. It was sharp for its time, but what the hell was it going to do now. Plus, all the commericals with the obvious attempt to catch the SaTC crowd, of which I am one, although I haven’t seem the film yet. Maybe DVD. This film looks horrible! I immediately change the channel when the ads come on, its that or barf. Thanks for a great review.

  • I looked forward to it due to the cast and was so so disappointed! To make things worse, Diane English has to go out of her way (or maybe not actually) to detach herself to feminism via an article in The Boston Globe. My friend and I saw the film in a very small, independent theater on Friday night (there was one man). It was kinda Sex and the City for the over 50 set I guess — though I’m in my 30s and she’s in her 40s! It might be an okay rental but this should have been much much better if they’ve been working on it since the 90s.

  • mt

    Incoming. NYC girl weighing in for, apparently for this film, the dark side.

    First the disclaimer: I hadn’t seen the original (Claire Booth Luce was a Republican, and I always figured she would have had neither the time nor finances to get her screenplay off the ground, had she been single and had to work).

    (Also not going to roll through the class issues – or Ms. Mendes one-note-ish performance – here.)

    I will concede that, as professional members of the film community, several of you felt some elements were lacking, especially when your expectations were focused on a classic’s remake.

    Personally? I didn’t want to see the remake of a cat fight.

    To conscribe my POV: my daily life is infested with boys (male-dominated profession). It literally didn’t occur to me until the “Steven and I might be getting a divorce” scene that there were no men on screen.

    MAJ, ordinarily I revel in what you have to say. You know that I am right there with you through Dark Knight, Iron Man, Michael Clayton, V for Vendetta – Constantine, even.

    As female moviegoers, we put up with the endless nausea-inducement that is: Knocked Up. Garden State. Superbad. Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Last Kiss (at the viewing of which I officially began to deeply doubt the existence of any benign powers left in the universe).

    Ugh. BLERGH.

    I watched Dark Knight this weekend for what I believe was the 5th time (my birthday weekend; I could do what I wanted). I savored particularly the subtext-laden one-on-one dialogues between Dent and Wayne; Dent and Gordon; Wayne and Fox.

    I got very much the same, albeit with more in your face text, in its most actorly moments, with this version of “The Women.” I felt like 18-to-45-year-old fanboys must feel all the time.

    Bergen/Ryan scenes? Genius. Bening/Fischer (both Carrie and Annette playing slightly to the left of type? moar plz). Magnificent Miss M (Colin Farrell, whom I love, can’t do that much with that little screen time).

    And Bening and Ryan, downtown, pretty much giving my and my girlfriends’ lives back to me on screen, sounding like they had been eavesdropping on us hanging out on W 107th or Spring Street.

    It was just – soothing, reassuring, comforting, validating, even, should you all permit such sentiment *gaspohnoez* – to see your life up there on the screen, for once.

    BOTH the women, as directors/writers/actors/Hollywood figures, and as the characters in the movie, are doing the best they can with what they’re offered/what they have.

    D*mmit.

    I just think I’m surprised at you for excoriating them for it.

    P.S. They hit the chairman’s target for opening weekend. And are already about 2/3 of the way to making their money back.

    P.P.S. I don’t know what screening you saw. But the the audience the two times I went to see it — other than being overwhelmingly female — were a pretty mixed demographic bag. They – we – weren’t – aren’t – all 50. And they were laughing their heads off. Not just the last 20 minutes. The whole time.

  • MaryAnn

    BOTH the women, as directors/writers/actors/Hollywood figures, and as the characters in the movie, are doing the best they can with what they’re offered/what they have.

    Bullshit. That’s an excuse, and a piss poor one. And it’s you saying that what they’re doing is NOT honest and true and valid but merely what teh menz allow them to do. Do you really want to go there?

    I *didn’t* see my life up there on screen. Is that valid?

  • mt

    “That’s an excuse, and a piss poor one.”
    *sigh*
    Jet lag sharpening your tongue even more than usual?
    *rolleyes*

    When they film your uncompromising script – I think I remember you saying you were working on at least one – let me know. I’ll buy a ticket.

    Really.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m not jetlagged yet. I haven’t left yet.

    Maybe my uncompromising script will never get made. It’s likely it won’t. I don’t see why that means I should give a pass to any old compromised piece of shit. And I don’t see why we should give a pass to anyone who gives in because it’s easier.

    It doesn’t sound, though, from your first comment, that you think there’s anything compromised about this movie. So which is it?

  • Courtney

    This movie was GOD AWFUL!! The beauty of the original script is that it is timeless! Avoid this like the plague and enjoy the fun original!

  • MaryAnn

    The original script is NOT timeless. The original script has to deal with laws and attitudes concerning divorce that no longer apply. Unfortunately, those attitudes have barely been updated by this remake.

  • wiggles

    BOTH the women, as directors/writers/actors/Hollywood figures, and as the characters in the movie, are doing the best they can with what they’re offered/what they have.

    There are quite a few female screen writers and film directors (though not nearly as many as their are male screen writers and directors – especially directors), making some excellent (though vastly underrated, of course) movies about women and their lives. Female filmmakers do have creative options. That’s the whole point of their being filmmakers. It’s doubly-triply disappointing that a female writer/director would make a movie about women that centers the characters’ lives around male approval and shoe shopping. I can almost more easily forgive Sex and the City for being a sea of trite stereotypes due to its having been created by a bunch of dudes.

  • Tonio Kruger

    You are surprised that the co-author of the song “Under My Thumb” would co-produce a film like this?

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