"It's All About Men!" That was the slogan on the poster for The Women, the 1939 movie version of Clare Boothe Luce's catty, all-female Broadway play. Directed by George Cukor, the movie starred Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford. Diane English, who created TV's Murphy Brown, makes her feature debut with a remake starring Meg Ryan (who also produced). The result isn't as bad as you might expect, but far less funny than you might hope.
Ryan plays Mary Hanes, a Connecticut wife who discovers her husband is having an affair. Her friends (Annette Bening, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith) rally around her and scope out the "other woman," a gold-digging Saks perfume clerk played by Eva Mendes, who, though more voluptuous than the original's Crawford, as an actress she's scarcely fit to carry Crawford's shoulder pads. Of the characters, only Bening's Sylvia, a Murphy Brown-like magazine editor, is vaguely recognizable as a real person. Pinkett Smith, as a lesbian author, is a politically correct afterthought, and Messing is saddled with the worst part, an earth-mother type obsessed with having babies.
The original Women depended on rapid, witty repartee, but English is a far more pedestrian writer than Luce, and her television-honed talents don't translate well to the big screen: Her pacing is slack and the laughs are few. Yet the movie does a few things well. It preserves much of the original dialogue and corrects the original's most annoying, dated element: Shearer's simpering Mary, who waited patiently for her husband and welcomed the bum home with open arms - literally. Luce's women were Manhattan socialites who spent their days at spas gossiping, but in English's update, it's not "all about men."
In this world, female fulfillment comes primarily from work. Mary, rather than wringing her hands over her husband's infidelity, revives her career by launching her own designer line - though the fact that she's wealthy enough to do that underscores the movie's irritating focus on the rich and beautiful. Though many of English's jokes fall flat, she offers a more sympathetic view of women than Luce, who cracked that the women who inspired her play "deserved to be smacked across the head with a meat ax."
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