‘The Women’ movie review: Annette Bening, Meg Ryan in all-female comedy

And I thought the Sex and the City movie was bad. Diane English’s The Women is an absolutely painful experience that not only wastes an extremely talented and likable cast, but also soils the good name of a true cinema classic. 

Purportedly based on Clare Booth Luce’s 1936 play and George Cukor’s 1939 film of the same name, English’s film steals a few character names and the basic plot, and then proceeds to trample all over the source material with another materialistic, consumerist assault on the senses. 

I’m convinced the film was financed by Saks Fifth Avenue – it plays like a two-hour commercial for the store, with half of the film taking place inside its doors (no joke), and the other half frequently mentioning it by name. 

When a little girl complains about all the excessive shopping, Annette Bening hisses the unforgettable line: “Let me tell you something. Nobody. Hates. Saks Fifth Avenue.”

In between the shopping excursions, we get some hints of a leftover plot: magazine editor Sylvia Fowler (Bening) discovers while getting her nails done (at Saks!) that best friend Mary Haines’ (Meg Ryan) husband is cheating on her with (Saks!) perfume counter girl Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes). 

Sylvia agonizes over telling her friend by telling her other friends, baby factory Edie Cohen (Debra Messing) and unconvincing lesbian Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett-Smith), but it’s all for naught, as Mary goes to get her nails done (yes, at Saks!) and hears the gory details first hand. 

There are some confrontations at Saks(!) and then an incredibly abstract scene where the characters actually go to another store to buy some kinky lingerie, and then a bizarre fashion show, but the pieces fall into place when the buyer for Saks(!) arrives. 

Finally, there’s a return to Saks(!), where Mary drops some sly hints, disrupting her husband’s affair and winning the cheating bastard back. Yay!

My God, these characters! How far has femininity regressed over the last 70 years? Does anyone remember the original film? Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard and Joan Fontaine, elegant, witty, resourceful women that men might actually be attracted to. These sitcom rejects can’t hold a candle to them. 

And yet, none of the acting is bad, though Ryan and Bening feel embarrassed in their roles. Messing is fun for a while. Candice Bergen and Bette Midler show up and don’t make fools of themselves. Cloris Leachman steals the film as Mary’s servant, the only character in the entire film we can connect with on an emotional level or feel sympathy for. 

No, full blame for this wrongheaded creature belongs to Murphy Brown creator English, who wrote an embarrassing, insulting screenplay and then, apparently, spent years trying to get it made.

Notable for its all-female cast (there aren’t even male extras in crowd scenes); but if this film did truly represent its titular gender, it’s a real wonder there are any heterosexual males out there.


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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