Tuesday, September 16, 2008

He Said, She Said: The Women (PG-13)

One Movie, Two Views

Mary Haines: Meg Ryan
Sylvia Fowler: Annette Bening
Edie Cohen: Debra Messing
Alex Fisher: Jada Pinkett Smith
Crystal Allen: Eva Mendes
Molly Haines: India Ennenga
Maggie: Cloris Leachman
Uta: Tilly Scott Pedersen
Catherine Frazier: Candice Bergen
Tanya: Debi Mazar
Bailey Smith: Carrie Fisher
Leah Miller: Bette Midler

Picturehouse presents a film written for the screen and directed by Diane Eng
lish. Based on the play by Clare Boothe Luce and the 1939 screenplay by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin. Running time: 114 min. Rated PG-13 (for sex-related material, language, some drug use and brief smoking).

“A woman is like a tea bag, you cannot tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”
—Nancy Reagan

Synopsis: A loose remake of the Clare Boothe Luce play and the 1939 movie of the same name, “The Women” focuses primarily on two women. Meg Ryan (“In the Land of Women”) is Mary Haines, a fashion designer who has never taken her own risks. The world she inhabits is disrupted when she discovers her husband is having an affair with a younger, sexier “spritzer girl” (Eva Mendes, “We Own the Night”). Annette Bening (“Running with Scissors”) is Sylvia Fowler, Mary’s best friend and a fashion magazine editor struggling to retain her journalistic integrity in a time when gossip has become more important than information. Two other friends support them—Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith, “Reign Over Me”), a lesbian author, and Edie (Debra Messing, NBC’s “Will & Grace”), a mother of four who refuses to stop having children until she births a boy.

He Said / ***
By Andrew D. Wells

What a surprising delight “The Women” is. I went into it expecting a closed-off female cavalcade of clich├ęd events, forced drama and inside humor; and discovered a free-spirited but serious look into the lives of successful women and the challenges they face in dealing with modern relationships and love. Instead of generalizing the relationships of the women depicted, writer and first-time director Diane English (an Emmy winning writer for television’s “Murphy Brown”) develops very specific characters and situations, without cutting corners on the way these women deal with problems and face challenges.

The plot doesn’t develop along predictable lines, nor does the comedy stoop to cheap slapstick. The humor is intelligent and informs the characters’ strengths and weaknesses. There is an early confrontation between Mary and Crystal, the spritzer girl, which takes place in a lingerie shop. Instead of developing into a catfight between the two women, the scene is handled with a reasonable conversation that springs out of the characters’ feelings about the situation. The dialogue is funny and smart, and reveals important details about whom these women are rather than pandering for cheap laughs.

Mary’s relationship with her daughter Molly (India Ennenga, the voice of children’s character “Pinky Dinky Doo”), and the unexpected relationship that develops between Molly and Sylvia are also handled with keen observation of the inexperience teenagers have in dealing with adult issues. At first, it seems as if Molly is going to be just an accessory character—someone to shake her head at the adult behavior—but she turns out to be a real teenager who is greatly affected by her situation and needs an adult to help her through it. And I appreciated that English didn’t make all the women’s attitudes toward children the same. It is rare to see women that are allowed to dislike children without being the villain.

But all that I’ve said here might give the impression that this movie is some sort of realistic drama where the audience is shown the hard realities of life. Nothing could be further from the truth. “The Women” is a fantasy of sorts. There are no men to be seen in the entire film, save one. (Can you spot him?) All of these women are successful, living a New York high life where money is only a logistic issue and the characters’ problems are fairly cosmetic. But this good life does not work against the movie’s success. The filmmakers have depicted these women’s charmed lives in order to draw the audience into a world we want to enjoy.

“The Women” also gives the impression of a road movie in the way English populates the film with many characters who drift into the story to offer insight and advice to our heroines and then drift out again. There are important cameos by Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman, Carrie Fisher, Bette Midler, and Debi Mazar. Each of these performers brings their own personal signature to the insight their characters provide. And the characters of Edie and Alex help to balance out the heavier parts of the plot with some good old-fashioned comic relief in the final scenes.

At a time when too many comedies take the easy way to the laugh by having their characters behave like children, it is nice to see a movie that has the integrity to show adults deal with their problems by trying to resist childish impulses. The characters in “The Women” actually consider their situations before acting upon them—some longer than they should. And they pay the consequences for their actions, but they also live with verve and purpose. “The Women” isn’t content to merely make fun of life’s difficulties; it works through those difficulties with humor.

She Said / ***
By Angie Wells

First, I’ll say, I asked my husband to get this movie for me for Christmas. I loved it. I gained inspiration from it. And it made me realize how lucky I am to have a good husband and good friends. Born and raised in small town America—rather than the bustling streets of Manhattan—I find I am lucky enough to have the same four best friends now as I did in elementary school. We are miles apart now but still keep in touch and visit often. After seeing “The Women”, I realize how much I value my friends and how much I miss being close to them.

“The Women” is a wonderful film about friendship and life. Yes, we’ve seen that set-up a hundred times, but this one is different. Having money doesn’t make one immune to the heartaches that life sometimes throws at us. Four friends’ relationships are tested and tried when they discover one has a cheating husband. One lives the life of the perfect socialite mother. One has broken through the glass ceiling. One believes her duty is to procreate. And one’s a lesbian who has trouble rising before noon.

The director’s choice to have only one male character appear in this film is amusing. I spent most of the film waiting and wondering which man we might see. The cheating husband maybe? Or someone more insignificant, like a handsome cabana boy or shirtless gardener? I won’t give it away, but it was worth the wait! This restriction does present a few hurdles for the director. Some scenes would’ve been better with a man written into the script, but I can only think of one scene in which the concept felt forced. Overall, I enjoyed the novelty of it.

The A-list cast is a joy. One of my favorite actresses, Meg Ryan, plays the slighted Mary Haines. (Meg, the one we love to hate. Is anyone really that cute?!? Honestly?) Mary finds herself betrayed—a situation all women fear. And not just by her husband, but by her best friend, too. Like many women, Mary has put her own life aside to raise and care for others—her husband, her daughter, and her community. One day she wakes up to find the rug has been pulled out from under her.

Her best friend Sylvie serves as the rock in this group of four friends. She is successful, outspoken and dynamic; but still has trouble finding the backbone to tell her best friend her husband’s cheating on her. Edie is a brilliant mess of a mother, a pregnant goody-two-shoes with a skeleton or two in her own closet. And Alex is the lackadaisical author, whose sexual preference in women provides comic relief from the very serious situations. It was great to see Alex and Edie come alive in the last scenes. Jada Pinkett Smith and Debra Messing steal the show in the last minutes of the film. Eve Mendes, as Crystal Allen, represents what most middle age women fear most—a young hottie with little respect for other women.

I found several similarities to my friends and me in this film. Each character has a trait similar to that of a friend of mine, making it easy for me to understand their relationships and judge their reactions to certain situations. But there were some flaws in this film. Other than her husband’s infidelity, Mary has a very cozy life. She is wealthy, has a daughter and good friends, and is very involved in bettering her community. Her life isn’t all that terrible. I found there were some issues that were difficult to relate to. Because of their privileged lifestyles, some problems were met with unrealistic answers for most of us. For example, Mary decides what she really wants out of life and the money to finance her lifelong dream materializes out of thin air. Most women wouldn’t be able to produce the start up cost on a venture like that! Then there’s the three months she “takes off” from real life to soak in her sorrow, but still manages to afford that million-dollar home in Connecticut with the housekeeper and nanny.

This film did a great job of showing how complex and meaningful female relationships can be. Life is messy. We all make mistakes, men and women alike. Some can be forgiven, others cannot. I loved that this film allowed the characters to make realistic choices, and didn’t stick to the cookie-cutter mold often found in Hollywood female entitlement movies. This film is great for women and men who value friendship. We all should treat our friends with the highest respect and gratitude. We never know when we might need them.

But that’s just a girl’s opinion!

1 comment:

Nicole said...

Sounds good... I'll try to see that one!