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Do regular folks shop at Saks
I somehow doubt it, and you will too after the
opening montage of “The Women,” when a svelte Annette Bening takes a
five-minute stroll through the first floor, her discriminating eye
registering every luxury item and expensive fake.
She's almost as dismissive of the chatterbox
manicurist: “I have a luncheon at one. It's in Connecticut. That's a
whole other state.”
This is a promising beginning for the current remake
of George Cukor's 1939 classic about society dames at war, because it
makes you think that Bening will be a great choice for the role of
Sylvie Fowler, which Rosalind Russell finessed with wicked glee in the
As in the original, Sylvie's manicurist retails hot
gossip about the Wall Street lion who's romancing her friend at the
perfume counter, and said lion is of course the husband of Sylvie's
best friend Mary, with whom she's having lunch, in Connecticut.
So far so good. And when we meet Mary, she's played
by Meg Ryan, which instantly puts us on her side, because if there's an
actress who can play sweet and down-to-earth better than Ryan, none of
us knows who it is.
Also joining the Ladies Who Lunch are the other Best
Friends: Debra Messing as Edie, a full-time mom with four little girls,
and Jada Pinkett Smith as Alex, a Lesbian writer whose date is a
supermodel who's so hungry she eats paper napkins.
By now the audience has twigged to the fact that,
following Cukor's lead, this movie really does have no men at all in
the cast. In fact, writer/director Diane English (who created Murphy
Brown) has done a pretty adept job at adapting and updating the
original, though with far fewer divorces and remarriages.
Which leads us to the differences. They're not
problems, just differences.
The 1939 “Women” (scripted by Anita Loos, Jane
Murfin and F. Scott Fitzgerald – really – from Clare Booth
Luce's hot, hot 1936 Broadway hit) was a bitchfest from the start, and
could practically define Political Incorrectness, which is why it's
classified nowadays as GP, or Guilty Pleasure. (And one you should
treat yourself to at the first opportunity.)
What English has done in her new “Women” is replace
the really nasty gossip, catfights and character assassinations with a
much softer story line in which the four friends are supportive and
caring and always there for one another in the best Sex and the City
Now there's nothing wrong with this approach except
that it de-fangs the original's nasty merriment. Eva Mendes certainly
has the sultry look of Crystal, the husband-thieving tramp, but she
plays her with such nonchalance that she hardly seems a threat. There
are a few moments where a little fire blazes through and you feel she
would dearly love to channel Joan Crawford as the first Crystal, but
maybe the director told her to sit on it.
And Annette Bening, who is perfectly capable of
playing a Roz Russell spitfire, is re-tooled into a much kinder,
gentler Sylvie, who has to be literally blackmailed into confirming the
divorce rumors for an evil gossip columnist.
What this does is give the new version an entirely
different focus, and for those who miss the original's flaming
bitchery, it may seem like an oddly emasculated effort, if that's the
word I want. But for those of us who can get over it, the new edition
has a lot of fun to offer, not the least of which is the pleasure of
watching a topnotch cast having a great time playing sympathetic and
I make no secret of my admiration for Bening (having
acted with her in a summer festival so long ago that she was an
ingénue, for crying out loud), and matching her with Ryan was genius:
their chemistry will give you some of the most genuine emotion you'll
see on screen this year.
It's also a joy to watch the work of veterans who
know exactly what they're doing, and here we have two: Cloris Leachman,
who steals every scene she's in as Mary's housekeeper (watch her
reaction .as Meg Ryan eats a stick of butter), and the wonderful
Candice Bergen as Mary's mom, whose quiet speech on how it feels to be
cheated on is a heart-wrencher.
And sit back and enjoy the luxury casting of Bette
Midler and Carrie Fisher in a pair of boffo cameos, as well as the work
of brilliant but lesser-known talents such as Jana Robbins, Debi Mazar
and Joanna Gleason, whom you will recognize from now on, on pain of
A special urge to go see India Ennenga as Mary's
daughter Molly; she captures the confusion and frustration of being
twelve so precisely you'll think, hey, that's my kid!
I tend to hold movies that are adaptations, of books
or other movies, to stricter standards, depending on my fondness for
the original. If you don't trust your material, I frequently argue, why
are you using it? But every now and then someone comes along with a new
take that's a valid twist on the old material, and that adds a new
That's what Diane English has done to this great old
potboiler, so even if you're as big a fan as I am of Norma Shearer and
Roz Russell, give the new version a try.