By: Lora Grady
2008, Directed by Diane English (based on Clare Boothe Luce’s play)
This Sunday, Warner Bros. Entertainment will release The Women on DVD. This past September, my co-editor and I were having a bad day and decided we needed a pick-me-up. The remake of the 1939 film had just been released in theatres. We needed a healthy dose of female empowerment, and from the 30-second trailer we watched on YouTube, it seemed like fitting solution. So we grabbed our tickets, picked up some popcorn and headed to the theatre.
An hour into the movie, I leaned over to Laura and whispered, “When does the empowering part begin?” It never did. My rants about this film could very well flood your computer screen, but I’ll try to keep it brief.
First of all, every character in this film fits neatly into one of Hollywood’s prescribed typecast roles typically assigned to women. Meg Ryan plays Mary, a successful clothing designer with the perfect Stepford life; Annette Benning plays cold-hearted career woman Sylvia; Jada Pinkett Smith plays Alex, the rough-edged lesbian; and Debra Messing plays Edie, the desperate housewife who can’t stop popping out children.
The plot takes off when Mary finds out her husband is cheating on her with Crystal, the sultry perfume spritzer played by Eva Mendes. Rather than confronting her husband, Mary confronts the mistress (in a very immature fashion; think Mean Girls, twenty years later) and buys sexy lingerie in a pathetic attempt to save her marriage. All of her friends, and even her own mother, try to convince Mary that leaving her husband is the wrong thing to do. When she finally comes to her senses and files for divorce, her life falls apart (naturally). This leads to a scene where Mary unwraps a stick of butter, dips it in cocoa powder and *gag* eats it. But alas, all is well again after Mary gets a makeover and then – TA DA – every area of her life improves dramatically. Amazing what a bottle of peroxide and some shearing scissors can do.
Aside from the not-so-subtle categorization of these women, Diane English makes it a point to ensure that NO MEN appear in this film. Diane English may have thought that this would serve as a source of empowerment for women, but I disagree. The New York Times sums it up best:
“… far from liberating the women from male domination, this trick serves only to emphasize their dependence on the caprices of patriarchal authority. The invisible men in “The Women” wield an almost mystical power.”
But what I found most disappointing was the number of great female comics and actresses who appear in the film. Annette Benning, Candice Bergen, Bette Midler, Carrie Fisher and Cloris Leachman have worked years to establish their place in the film industry as credible actresses. I couldn’t believe that women with so much talent would agree to play such demeaning roles.
At the very end of the film, Edie delivers the baby boy she has always longed for. The scene involves a sequence much like something straight out of The Lion King. The mystical creature that is the male is lifted upward in slow motion (presumably toward the Heavens) like some kind of prophet. The women bask in his glory, and all is right in the world.
Needless to say, Laura and I left the theatre in a worse mood than when we arrived. It’s one thing to remake a Hollywood classic; but let’s keep in mind that women have made way too much progress to celebrate such a patriarchal and sexist form of entertainment.