Directed By: Diane English
Starring: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman, Debi Mazar, India Ennenga
The Women updates the Clare Booth Luce play previously adapted into a 1939 George Cukor film to the 21st century. Meg Ryan plays wealthy Connecticut housewife Mary Haines who learns her husband, a Manhattan financial bigwig, is having an affair with Crystal Allen (Mendes), an aspiring soap actress who works behind the perfume counter at Saks. Her close friends Sylvia Fowler (Bening), Edie Cohen (Messing), and Alex Fisher (Smith) learn of the affair concurrently through department store gossip and rally around Mary to support her. With, and sometimes despite, the advice and support of her friends and Mother (Bergen), Mary negotiates a separation that forces her to reassess her own identity while trying to decide what is best for herself and her daughter, Molly (Ennenga).
Writer/Director Diane English spent the past thirteen years trying to bring this update of The Women to the screen, making it more or less the "Chinese Democracy" of chick flicks. Unfortunately, the end result is a bit of a letdown. Despite an impressive all-female cast that apparently all took pay cuts in order to make the film, the film feels over ambitious and underdeveloped.
Part of the problem may be a miscalculation on English's part. She has stated repeatedly in interviews, that she wanted to rework the play and film to reflect modern ideas about supportive networks of women rather than the bitchy bordering on campy take of its predecessors. Luce's play and the Cukor film adaptation were something like scorched Earth indictments of high society women that Luce had observed with disdain when she moved to New York. A huge part of the fun factor of the earlier film comes from the knives out take no prisoners cynicism on display, which is largely diffused when the cattiness is replaced with hugs and crying. Replacing that fun is some sitcommish humor and attempts to touch on issues to which the film really cannot devote sufficient time to do justice such as the body images of young girls.
The cast is somewhat under-served by the hit and miss jokes in the dialog, with Bening in particular not being able to sell many of the groaners with which she is saddled. Ryan is dependable, but does not elevate the material enough to make it work. The friendship of Bening and Ryan is the central relationship of the film, and it never seems believable. Bening actually fares better in her scenes with India Ennenga which are charming, believable, and barely related to the plot. Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith are essentially employed as comic relief, although Messing gets a too-little too-late dramatic moment near the film's all-too-neat conclusion. Pinkett Smith does not fare even that well as her character is given little to do other than establish that she is a lesbian and occasionally act sassy.
The cast members that really shine are the ones who are most adept at negotiating a steady set-up, joke, lather, rinse, repeat sitcom pace. Messing and, in supporting roles, Candice Bergen and Cloris Leachman all create memorable and funny characters which are not enough to overcome the film's limitations, but at least add some entertainment value to the proceedings.
The widescreen presentation of the film fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. A 4:3 reformatted version of the film is on the flip side of this double-sided single-layered disc. I did not review the 4:3 version of the film, but I did sample it enough to verify that it has the same strengths and weaknesses as the 16:9 version aside from its aspect ratio differences. The film on disc appears to suffer from being confined to a single layer along with 40 minutes of promos and extras. Compression artifacts are pervasive, and the image looks both soft and excessively and unnaturally grainy as a result.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is unambitious but sufficient for the material. The film provides few opportunities to exploit the surround and LFE channels, and the mixers decline to take advantage of them anyway. The majority of the sound is focused in the front hemisphere, with only very low level support for ambience and music appearing in the rear channels. Fidelity is very good, and the disc is likely a good rendering of the theatrical mix. No alternate language dubs are included.
When disc one is first spun up, the viewer is greeted with the following series of skippable promos. All are presented in 4:3 video, letterboxed when appropriate, with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound unless indicated otherwise:
- Anti-Piracy PSA with clips from Casablanca (1:00)
- Warner Blu-Ray Promo (Dolby Digital 5.1 Sound - 1:09)
- He's Just Not that Into You Theatrical Trailer (1:58)
- Nights in Rodanthe video trailer(:32)
- Anti-Smoking PSA telling you that smoking is not as cool as tobacco companies tell you(:34)
The Women: The Legacy (16:9 enhanced video - 18:45) Looks at the genesis of the film including its antecedent Clare Booth Luce play and the George Cukor film adaptation. English talks about why she thought it would be ripe for a remake. She also discusses the thirteen year genesis of the project. How the project became unstalled thanks to producer Victoria Pearman, how she eventually decided to direct, the decision for an all-female cast, her purposefully different slant on the material vs. its predecessor, and notes on the cast. Interview segments are intercut with clips from the movie as well as its 1939 predecessor. In addition to English, on-camera interview participants include Producer Victoria Pearman and actresses Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, India Ennenga, and Candice Bergen. The best moments of this featurette are when comparable scenes between the Cukor film and this remake are intercut in amusing montages.
The Women Behind "The Women" (10:00) is a hybrid PSA for girls' self esteem issues/behind the scenes featurette. After an intro from English, we are introduced to "Junior Journalist" Cammy Nelson. Cammy visits the Boston set of the film to meet and interview the cast and crew and ostensibly answer the question "What is real beauty?" Cammy narrates her journey with extensive behind the scenes footage mixed with interviews of English, Pearman, production designer Jane Musky, makeup department head Julie Hewett, Ryan, Bening Messing, Smith, and Ennenga. The whole thing is tied into the Dove [yes, the soap company] Campaign for Real Beauty, and boils down to a superficial message that each of us has our own beauty. This is not something viewers are likely to watch twice, but it provides the only behind the scenes glimpses of the crew on the disc, so it might be worth watching once.
Additional Scenes (6:24 w/Play All) is a collection of two substantial deleted scenes that can be viewed either separately or together via a 'Play All" selection
- Going Through the Guilty Stage (1:25) features Crystal and her friends at her apartment discussing developments in her relationship with Mary's husband and her new gig as a soap opera actress
- Who Are You, Mary? (4:58) Greatly extends the scene where Mary and Leah share a joint at the health getaway to include a story beat where Sylvia drives up to see her to apologize for her part in some gossip that was printed about her which leads in to a disastrous attempt by a reconciliatory-minded Mary to call her husband. This scene might have helped the film since in the final cut, Mary's forgiveness of Sylvia for the gossip incident seems so immediate and abrupt that one wonders why the incident was included.
The double sided single layered DVD-10 disc is packaged in a standard Amaray case with a cover image that is as poorly photoshopped as it is heavily airbrushed. The 16:9 enhanced widescreen and reformatted 4:3 versions of the film are the only differences between the disc sides, which otherwise repeat identical promos and extras. An insert to the case offers an access code to download a reduced price digital copy for Windows XP/Vista PCs and Windows "Playsforsure" compatible portable devices.
Despite an impressive all-female cast, Diane English's modern updating of The Women miscalculates by dialing down the cattiness of its theatrical and cinematic predecessors without replacing it with anything as sharp or witty. It is presented on DVD with a bit-starved encoding that will not present well on large displays and a good rendering of the unambitious theatrical sound mix. Extras are modest, with the highlight being two substantial deleted scenes.