September 12, 2008

Review: The Women

Those of you familiar with this site know that I have been very excited about The Women which opens nationwide today. What could be better for a site that celebrates women and Hollywood than a film about women from one of Hollywood's most beloved and outspoken feminists, the creator of Murphy Brown-- Diane English.

I'm sure some of you have seen the press over the last couple of weeks about how it has taken 14 years! for English to make the film, and how having a film targeted at women -- especially those of us over 25, that evil and dreaded fourth quadrant -- has gotten even harder to make. This messianic zeal is common to women directors and it's amazing how she stuck to it for all those years. Here's what English said to her hometown paper Buffalo News:

“The more times people told me to walk away, that it couldn’t be done and it was a fool’s journey, the more committed I became to it. That’s the nature of my personality,” she laughs. “Also, it just felt like an important statement to make that women will go to the movies if we see something that is meaningful to us, if we can see ourselves on the screen, rather than being just the stock characters — the long-suffering wife and the hot girlfriend.
If there weren't such a pathetic lack of films and such a torturous back story, this film's success or failure would have everything to do with what's onscreen and nothing to do with the lack of films for women. But there are many layers to this story, and we do see so few women onscreen so a film like The Women with its star power has gotten a lot of attention especially in the wake of the successes of Sex and the City and Mamma Mia.

The reviews have not been kind to Ms. English. They're all really bad. I agree with lots of what people are saying but personally I did enjoy the film not because it is a good film but in spite of its multitude of shortcomings.

Honestly, this is not well crafted film. The directing is lacking. At times the film felt like a sitcom and that makes perfect sense because that's where English is most comfortable. There are scenes when I felt that the characters were not acting within the same scene. Diane English -- who never even so much directed an episode of Murphy Brown before -- was in some ways forced into the director's chair in order to get it done. I respect and understand her zeal to make the movie but there are plenty of other women directors who are experienced who should of and could have taken on the assignment.

While some people feel the 1939 version of the film is their favorite film ever, others, including readers of this site, think it is incredibly sexist. While I don't love the 1939 version, I do love the premise -- a movie about women, just women. I still wonder why it's such a big deal to see a movie with just women. I mean last year's two top Oscar contenders were movies about men and that was no big deal. I'm just looking for a little diversity in choice.

And speaking of diversity, I really didn't enjoy the portrayal of the two women of color in the film. Eva Mendes plays Crystal Allen the "spritzer girl" who is having an affair with Meg Ryan's husband. Eva's part is small and comes off as a cliche -- the hot Latina. And boy is she hot. How do I know? All the men in the theatre sat up straight and licked their lips during her confrontation scene with Meg Ryan where both are in lingerie. She is underutilized and objectified, but that's I guess that's what you get when you play the other woman.

Jada Pinkett Smith plays a surly lesbian writer who drinks to much and is having issues delivering her second book. She also seems to date gorgeous supermodels who is hysterically seen at a party eating a paper napkin because god forbid she should actually eat some food. And speaking of cliches, poor Deb Messing. She plays the continuously pregnant Edie Cohen. She comes off shrill, annoying and unessential.

Meg Ryan is typical Meg Ryan only with a new face (she's got that new face that NY magazine wrote about). She's wooden with the same hand gestures we've seen in all her previous films. The amazing Bette Midler has a teeny part as a much married Hollywood agent whom Meg meets at a canyon ranch like retreat. Candice Bergen, who I still miss as Murphy Brown, steals every scene she's in as Meg's mom (which she is playing for the 2nd time) even though she would have had to have given birth when she was 15 years old, but hey teen pregnancy is all the rage these days.

Lastly and thankfully, there's Annette Bening who I was honestly so scared to see onscreen because her face on the poster makes it looks like she's had a total face transplant. But I am happy to report that I saw her face move, and Bening is by far the best part of this film. She plays a hard working career woman who never wanted to have kids. Seeing that type of woman onscreen in this baby obsessed world (have you noticed?) is in itself a relief, as is her struggle as an aging woman in the youth obsessed magazine business. Sylvie Fowler is no Miranda Priestley. She is very unsure of herself and her place in society and while she puts on a good face, she's falling apart.

While I still don't understand how all these women are friends and I can't pretend that these women who spend way too much time in Saks (honestly, I'd believe it more if it were Macy's) are at all realistic, I still enjoyed many of the stinging quips English was able to get in about aging and the treatment of women in our culture.