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.

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