Films: The Women (gushing review)

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.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

Mags: The Girlfriend model debate

The media loves a good model debate!

I'm a little late to the party with this one, and expect to cop a bit of flack for my comments, so I'll just start with a quick ceveat: yes, I worked for Girlfriend magazine ('04-'07) and, yes, I still occasionally write for the magazine. I'm also quite fond of its staff. And its editorial. Enough said.

I am in two minds about the controversy around the inclusion of 12-year-old Karla Reid in the finalists' lineup for this year. 'Underage modelling' is the issue, according to The Australian, an argument which loses weight (no modelling pun intended) when you consider that Girlfriend is a magazine read by 11-17 year-olds.

In the context of the magazine, Karla doesn't look out of place. This is not a 12-year-old posing provocatively in the pages of Vogue or Russh (or Art Monthly, for that matter), or being ogled on the Fashion Week catwalk. Most models cast for Girlfriend's fashion shoots are aged 13-18 (though they're most often older teens, making them 'aspirational'), with young actors from the likes of Home and Away (former H&A girl Indiana Evans is popular) and 'real girls' also modelling clothes.

Karla has secured herself a two-year contract with Chic Model Management (as have the five other finalists), though I'd say Chic would be more inclined to align Karla, given her age and girl-next-door good looks, with its Scoop Management division (which specialises in models for advertising, TV commercials and 'mainstream' fashion – as apposed to high fashion). When I was casting for Girlfriend shoots, I'd often hire girls from Scoop based on their healthy schoolgirl appeal. Of course, the winner of the competition (to be announced on November 19) also wins a contract with Chic's affiliate New York agency Next – if Karla were to win, we may have more cause for concern.

The international world of modelling, which, as Patty Huntington goes into on her blog, can be a harsh, cruel world, where young girls suffer depression, eating disorders and isolation, is no place for a 12-year-old. Though many would contend that today's 12-year-olds are an entirely different proposition to the ones of 10 or 20 years ago, at that age the brain and emotions are still underdeveloped, though the girls' bodies might suggest otherwise. Even at 18, a fragile constitution and personality (perhaps an inclination towards depression) combined with the pressures of modelling can be catastrophic.

Modelling competitions in general also don't sit well with me, though I was obsessed with them (and their winners) as a teen, and would have given my right arm to model in a magazine (because, as I was led to believe by said magazines, modelling was, like, the ultimate aspiration! And models had perfect lives... and boyfriends like Johnny Depp!).

When I sat on the panel of Girlfriend's 2007 Model Search Sydney event, I looked on despondently as many pretty, lovely girls, who desperately wanted to be models (more than anything they wanted to be the next Miranda Kerr!) had their picture taken, only to be sent to the bottom of the pile based on their height (and height potential) and hip size (and hip potential).

It is a superficial, looks-based competition with very specific criteria, just like Australia's Next Top Model (remember the furor over bitchy finalist Demelza?), where personality counts about as much as your grasp of the periodic table. How disheartening to be sent to castings by agencies only to be turned away time and time again, let alone be told that you are fat (as was the experience with young American model Ali Michael). Not fabulous for the self-esteem, as Mia Freedman contends.

That said, winning Dolly's modelling competition in 1997, aged 13, doesn't seem to have done Miranda Kerr any long-term psychological harm (the girl's even writing a holistic health book!). With the right kind of upbringing and family support, as well as an empathetic agent, one could assume that the potential for a girl to get lost in the world of fashion is minimised. Perhaps securing modelling mentors like Kerr would help alleviate any parental or industry angst about sending girls into the modelling world... while more magazine editorial around building a wider sense of self would help the majority of girls left behind (self included) whose looks just don't cut it.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel

P.S. I also think Girlfriend has to be commended for choosing girls who appear to be in a healthy weight range for their ages.

Mags: Teen Vogue's superslim ideal

In her October issue editor's letter, Amy Astley takes aim and fires at L.A.'s glamour girls – namely, those who partake in a little plastic surgery action – with reference to the mag's 'Hot Topic' feature of the month, 'Faking It'...

"The bland sameness of what passes for L.A. glamour is worse than boring – it's hazardous to mental health! Witness the clonelike armies of perma-tanned, hair-extensioned, pillow-lipped, breast-implanted superskinnies that many of us measure our appearance against. Hollywood's version of beautiful and sexy seems to embody one aesthetic – and women of all ages, from Heidi Montag and Ashlee Simpson to Pam Anderson (okay, she invented the look), contort what nature gave them to conform to the prevailing standard. But really, what is sexy about doing unnatural things to your body in pursuit of looking like everyone else?"

But while Teen Vogue clearly disapproves of the tacky-glamour aesthetic popular in L.A., it's only too happy to endorse its own aesthetic ideal – one that's arguably harder to attain and places more strain on the 'mental health' of young women. It's one thing to be "superskinny" with fake boobs (bad) but apparently it's entirely different to be plain "superskinny". And white (unless you are Chanel Iman). And WASP-like. And tall, too, if you please. The generic beauty ideal that Teen Vogue serves up for readers month after month via its fashion, beauty and even 'real girl' editorials certainly eschews the well-endowed (Vogue is no place for boobs – fake or real; suppress your womanhood like a good girl, an androgynous, svelte 13-year-old boy figure is what you want – just look at Anna Wintour, Carine Roitfeld and Astley herself). Here are some of the Vogue-approved girls to feature elsewhere this issue...

Actress Hayley Bennett reminds me a little of Blake Lively (who also gets TV's nod – though it's Gossip Girl's Leighton Meester who features this month) and seems to be enjoying the sun on her alabaster skin. Thin. White. WASP.

And here we have a typical Teen Vogue model. Thin. White. Tall. WASP.

And Agyness Deyn, of course. Thin. White. Tall. WASP.

Even this super-slim 'super fan', who interned with Phillip Lim, fits the Teen Vogue mould (though she could be Jewish – diversity!).

Admittedly, Teen Vogue is ostensibly trying to convey a positive message in 'Faking It', despite its undercurrent of WASPy clones: "There's no doubt that feeling insecure about your looks can be difficult to deal with," writes Jane Shin Park, "but plastic surgery shouldn't be seen as a quick-fix solution... start making improvements from the inside out." And it has gone to the effort of including Zooey Deschanel, Taylor Momsen, Ellen Page, Lily Allen and America Ferrera in a 'Unique Starlets' side-panel (one Hispanic with hips – check!). But the message is still loud and clear: in the great white world of Vogue, it's survival of the slimmest... and boobless.

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel