29 March 2009

Movie Review: The Women


The Women
2008, 114mins, PG-13
Director: Diane English
Writer: Diane English
Cast includes: Meg Ryan, Annette Benning, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Eva Mendes, Bette Midler
Release Date: 12th September 2008

There comes a time when concessions have to be made and simple points of fact have to be confessed. Even in the fantastic yet strictly fictional world of escapist cinema one has to confide when a certain piece may not have been developed with them in mind. Such a film is The Women and such a person is me, I can’t ever imagine writer/Director Diane English having ever factored in the young male as a target demographic for her remake of the 1939 picture of the same name. I’ve never seen that film and so can’t really contrast the 2008 incarnation with the original, but one thing is for sure. To have achieved the cult recognition it has it must be a damned sight better than this uniformly awful dramedy. Granted I’m not the person who this toxic little puff piece was designed for, but the young females who the screenplay is desperately trying to snare are unlikely to be any happier with the outcome. Indeed they will probably be a great deal more insulted by the fact that Hollywood appears to believe this is the level of cinema they deserve.

The catch with The Women is that the film doesn’t have a male character in sight, it’s played out fully by the fairer sex and revolves purely around their lives, friendships and feelings of frustration toward men. The story largely centres around Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) a woman who has just found out that her workaholic husband has been having an affair behind her back. Desperately trying to make sense of it all she spends most of the picture crying on the shoulders of her best friends, highly strung Sylvia (Annette Benning), laid back and child friendly Edie (Debra Messing) and Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith) the only one of the tightly wound pack who has no interest in males. Each has her own personal conundrums but they are united in their attempts to console Mary and get back at the adulteress (Eva Mendes) who has ruined their friends perfect existence.

The Women is a nauseating experience for a variety of reasons but irredeemable thanks to just one. The pictures biggest problem falls firmly upon the fact that not one of the characters is engaging or likable, they’re either to thinly constructed and those that receive fleshing out just come across as awful people. In the lead Meg Ryan carries across none of that winning personality we’ve come to expect from the uni-dimensional actress. She portrays Mary as a whining and irritating idealist, somebody who never seems concerned with the problems of others but rather her own singular marital issue in which she is not even blameless. It’s nearly impossible to connect with a screen personality so riddled with loathsome flaws and who exhibits so few merits, had she shown a little more spirit and head strong attitude the audience might like her but sadly she just flails around like a distressed puppy. Support is little better, Benning a usually reliable actress has made a bad choice in playing such a puerile and artificially conflicted character, the horrid nature of the screenplay ensuring that even as an anti-hero of sorts she never has a chance to make the personality likeable. Messing isn’t offensively bad and even at times exudes a little charisma but her pregnant persona is underwritten as is Jada Pinkett Smith’s hyper kinetic and mouthy character. As the sexy adulteress Eva Mendes is wooden and ineffective, she’s obnoxious sure but in no way does she make for a memorable or intimidating villain.

The Women marks a debut directing gig for Diane English and the first time that she has been permitted to pen a theatrical feature. On both counts she presents minimal skill or ability. Her direction is flat and the pacing utterly hashed whilst the writing is superficial and features perfuse amounts of lowest common denominator dialogue. Her greatest sin however is in her disregard for building believable onscreen chemistry and keeping the plot interesting. These assets often walk hand in hand especially in a feature with dramatic pretensions but on neither count can English score a hit. She seems far more pre-occupied with her lame “no dudes” gimmick and the magnificent upper class environments the characters so frequently occupy. I can only hope that in the future English keeps her woeful artistic abilities on the TV, or better yet away from anywhere involving a script or camera.

The film is ultimately neither funny nor involving and ultimately boils down to a group of mostly famous people playing horrible human beings. Women are strongly advised to avoid this tosh as it has no empowering capabilities (or even basic entertainment value) whilst at 114 minutes it lasts far too long. At 90 minutes the film might just have been bad in a forgettable sort of way but sadly drawn out to nearly two hours and it become an intolerable and uniquely terrible offering. For some the central gimmick or promise of a contemporary reimagining might be enough to consider a viewing, but I guarantee everyone hates themselves and the medium of film just a little more after a viewing of The Women. Yes, it really is that bad.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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