As we've seen of late, adaptations of films and TV shows that were much loved in their original form aren't always well received by audiences (unless you are God perfecting woman, why tamper with the original?). Similarly, Diane English's 2008 interpretation of The Women hasn't been warmly received by critics, written off as the millennial chick flick's lame answer to the spicier 1939 original, which doesn't hold a candle to Sex and the City The Movie or The Devil Wears Prada. Bullocks to that, I say. I adored this film... and will pay to see it again.
For me, it has all the ingredients I look for in a good chick flick (and, no, I don't think that's an oxymoron): a gorgeous, interesting and credible cast, complex characters with whom I can identify in some way (one whom edits a glossy magazine), a storyline that pulls on the heartstrings and/or confronts moralistic issues, the glamour of a big city (New York), beautiful fashion and a conclusion that satisfies like a hot cup of tea on a cold day.
From the moment the opening credits start to roll (to the tune of Beautiful by Lucy Schwartz – I am definitely buying the soundtrack), it's hard not to be impressed: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Debra Messing, Candice Bergen, Bete Midler, Eva Mendes... it's an A-list lineup as impressive (if not more so) as the upcoming He's Just Not That Into You.
Ryan plays to type as the lovable domestic goddess Mary Haines (I am in awe of her hair and the subtle facial surgery); Annette Bening is stand-out as the single, Samantha Jones-type career woman, Sylvie Fowler, editor of Cache magazine; Debra Messing makes childbirth look realistically excruciating; and Eva Mendes plays the bitch so well you hate her.
Candice Bergen does justice to all her roles (including her cameo as a Vogue editor on Sex and the City, though she's best known as English's Murphy Brown) and she doesn't disappoint as Mary's mother. I even loved Debi Mazar in the lesser role of the gossipy manicurist. Casting perfection (and there's not a man to be seen!). My only qualms: Jada Pinkett Smith rubbed me up the wrong way as the token (black) lesbian friend, though I had to laugh at the angry antics of her carb-deprived supermodel girlfriend, Bette Midler is wasted in a vellor tracksuit and role of little significance, and Mary's 'have it/do it all while looking amazing and acting chirpy', sickly sweet, modern Wall Street wife made me feel terribly inadequate (probably the point).
Like the Sex and the City movie, the central theme is female friendship (there are even parallels between Miranda and Sylvie's betrayals, not to mention the fact that there are four women in the circle... oh, and there's a Natasha/Carrie-like changeroom confrontation, too), though the plot revolves around Mary's husband's infidelity, the other woman (Mendes as perfume 'spritzer girl' Crystal Allen) and the dynamics of divorce, as well as the fallout when children are involved (teens will identify with Mary's daughter, Molly, and the premature teen angst brought on by her parents' separation).
In a tasty subplot (for those of us interested in the world of magazines – and if you're not, I think you've stumbled into the wrong blog), as the editor of a glossy losing readership ground, Sylvie is confronted with several issues: the (much) younger staff member with brilliant ideas, selling out to please a publisher, the danger of investing too much of yourself in your work and the hypocrisy of women's magazine publishing ("We are driving women mad!" says Sylvie in one editorial meeting). Her character evolves, of course, and loses some of her hard edge (more than Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly). Similarly, Mary's mother (Bergen) also eventually lets her pretense go and becomes a more compassionate, honest, giving mother in the process.
While we were all familiar with the dynamics of Sex and the City before the film was released, I think The Women does a brilliant job of establishing character connections, plot lines and audience empathy in a short space of time. It challenged my thinking (how would I react to news of my husband's infidelity?) and ultimately left me with a case of the warm and fuzzies. A welcome feeling in these troubling times.
Girl With a Satchel