The Women (Blu-ray)
Directed by Diane English
Studio: New Line
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:11080pVC-1 codec
Running Time: 114 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
MSRP: $ 35.99
Release Date: December 21, 2008
Review Date: December 12, 2008
Claire Booth Luce’s 1936 Broadway play The Women was a bitchfest supreme: over two hours of women fighting like cats over their philandering spouses. It was a smash hit running for over a year and was filmed in 1939 by George Cukor and featured one of the all-time great female casts. It retained the bawdy, all-claws-out scenario of the Broadway play with only slight alterations in dialog to purge profanity from the screen. Writer-director Diane English spent over a decade getting her updated remake to the screen, but the resultant movie, a milquetoast women’s empowerment story, wasn’t really worth the effort. Most of the eye-opening rapier wit of the original is long gone, and in its place is a dramedy with wan comic dimension and drama that’s from hunger. Why even base your movie on one of the stage and screen’s most famous catty confrontational comedies when you don’t plan to use what made it memorable? This film was basically dead in the water even before it started.
Faced with the knowledge that her husband of thirteen years has been cheating on her with a perfume counter salesgirl (Eva Mendes), clothes designer Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) struggles with filing for divorce and moving on with her life. Complicating things are a host of friends who have their own opinions about what Mary’s actions should be: magazine editor Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), eternally pregnant housewife Edie Cohen (Debra Messing), author Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith), and Mary’s loving and understanding mother (Candice Bergen). They’re involved themselves in their own personal problems, however, leaving Mary to cope mostly on her own with what she wants to do with her life now that her husband appears to be out of the picture.
Writer-director Diane English has defanged and declawed the women in her film, taking away most of the potential for barbed, over-the-top humor. Instead, she’s made these women so earnest in their desires and so independent from thoughts of love (except the shared bonds of sisterhood) that the film is dull, neither a beacon of comic hijinks nor an interesting exploration of the growth of opportunities for women since the original play and film were produced. There is nothing here that grips the viewer, neither verbally nor visually leaving the film a forgettable exercise in female assertiveness that’s noble but notably uninteresting. English’s direction is drab as well staging the film’s most famous scenes, the dressing room encounter between the two women of the love triangle and a bathroom conversation between the “other woman” and the daughter of the woman she’s replaced, conventionally enough to urge one into napping. The film is an encyclopedia of lost opportunities (and that includes casting such personalities as Bette Midler and Carrie Fisher in cameo roles and then not letting them do anything remotely entertaining).
Though the casting of the picture features some of the best comic actresses currently working in the film and television industry, the two leading ladies are ridiculously miscast. Annette Bening’s Sylvie Fowler doesn’t have the spitfire brass and polish as a magazine editor; she might have been more ideally cast as Mary. Meg Ryan’s most successful films have been romantic comedies, but here, she’s adrift with a role requiring a social languorousness that she can’t act with conviction. Instead, her transformation into a woman of assertiveness isn’t much of a change from where she begins the film thus blunting any impact her change might have generated. Debra Messing’s climactic delivery scene is her best sequence in the film, but it’s overdone to the point of irritation, and Jada Pinkett Smith is completely wasted as the lesbian writer. Only Cloris Leachman as Mary’s loyal maid and Candice Bergen as Mary’s caring mother lend the film any sense of fun or emotional pull.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 for this Blu-ray release, and it’s delivered at 1080p using the VC-1 codec. Though color is strong, flesh tones natural, and sharpness above average, there’s nothing particularly striking about the transfer. There’s a bit of line shimmer to be seen and some edge enhancement, too, though neither are major problems with the encode. The film has been divided into 29 chapters.
Disappointingly, we have another high definition transfer with only a lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 (640 kbps) track for the audio mix. It’s a predictable front heavy sound design with both various pop tunes and Mark Isham’s score being the only real occupants of the rear channels and then only sporadically.
“The Women: The Legacy” is an 18 ¾-minute documentary on the original play and film The Women and how director-writer Diane English spent 13 years bringing her variation of it to the screen through seven drafts of the script and many changes in the cast. English speaks about her reasons for altering the slant of the play and her notions about casting the roles in the current film. It’s presented in 1080i, and the multiple clips from the 1939 The Women make that film look absolutely stellar in high definition.
“The Women Behind The Women” finds 15-year old Cammie Nelson doing a report about “What Is Real Beauty?” by interviewing various cast and crew members of this production. This 1080i featurette also lasts 18 ¾ minutes.
Two deleted scenes are included for viewing, both wisely cut but the last offering a little more of Bette Midler’s performance as the loser-at-love heiress. They can be viewed separately or in one 6 ½-minute clump. They’re presented in 480i.
A lost opportunity for bringing a saucy comic bitchfest into the 21st century, The Women is as mild as skim milk and just about as filling. This one is a real disappointment.