Reviews

The Women

Despite its title, The Women is not an update of George Cukor's diva smackdown of the same name.


The Women

Director: Diane English
Cast: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Jada Pinkett Smith, Debra Messing, Eva Mendes, Debi Mazar, Carrie Fisher, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen
Length: 114
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Picturehouse
First date: 2008
UK Release Date: 2008-09-12 (General release)
US Release Date: 2008-09-12 (General release)
Trailer
This is not modern, Mary.

-- Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening)

Despite its title, The Women is not an update of George Cukor's diva smackdown of the same name. That 1939 film was based on Clare Boothe Luce's stage play and has long held cult status among aficionados of camp. Diane English's movie is something else.

Some of the new film's changes speak to the changing times. (It would have been hard to imagine a black lesbian like Jada Pinkett Smith's Alex, for instance, back in that big screen day.) Other changes are structural. As in the original, the focus is solely on women: husbands and corporate bosses are filtered entirely through phones, and the stars are set in spaces where men don't go. Sometimes these spaces make sense; the salon at Saks in the middle of the day might not have any men (though surely a number would be laboring there), and the dressing suites of a high-end lingerie boutique would most definitely be devoid of them. Other times, these single-sex realms poke fun at the foibles and fancies of upper crust Manhattanites, as when Mary (Meg Ryan) meets her mother (Candace Bergen) for lunch at what is supposed to recall the restaurant at the Four Seasons. Here the two are surrounded by the ladies-who-lunch set, all of whom are fine-tuned to everyone else in the room, noting who's having lunch with whom, who's wearing what, and who appears to have had recent cosmetic work. Most of the time, however, the lack of men, even in the background, is noticeable mostly for the absurd stretches English has to go to keep the screen male-free.

Coming after Sex and the City, The Women is plainly appealing to a particular demographic. English has said repeatedly during her 10-year journey to realize the project, that she wanted to focus on women's friendships rather than on bitchery and back-stabbing. The Women, in other words, is not just a women's film, but a feminist film. The question remains, however, what kind of feminism?

It's certainly not old-school, second-wave feminism. That would be too unruly, the women too demanding of justice and equality. A few moments do take up historical feminist concerns, as when Alex's supermodel girlfriend Natasha (Natasha Alam) rails against being called a "supermodel" because it objectifies her. We see her a bit later, trying to blend in to the background of a party, clutching a glass of champagne and furtively chomping off bits of paper cocktail napkins. You see, the fashion industry does horrible things to women and their self-esteem.

But such instances of critical consciousness are quickly left behind. Instead, the film focuses on those relationships English had in mind. Mary accepts her mother's counsel upon learning that her husband is having an affair with a perfume counter sales clerk (Eva Mendes). Though Mary wants to confront him, mom tells her not to let him know she knows, and instead take a vacation where she'll be out of touch. The more time he spends with his mistress, mom sagely opines, the more he will come to re-appreciate his wife.

Mary combines this door-mat approach with other, less depressing activities, like follow her own set-aside career dreams (in a glaring inconsistency, the fashion industry so overtly critiqued earlier becomes the vehicle of Mary's transformation). When at last she achieves a rapprochement with her spouse, the film suggests that Mary's strength lies in her quiet reserve and fidelity. Seems less feminist than Victorian to me.

In this respect, The Women represents the kind of popular post-feminist feminism all too common in mainstream media over the past decade, and on spectacular display this month in the ascendancy of Sarah Palin. Feminist scholars like Linda Hirshman have pilloried such "choice feminism," which celebrates any and all choices made by women as "feminist," even when those choices lead to very traditional, heteronormative, and conservative positioning for women.

In The Women, post-feminist feminism is apotheosized in Edie (Debra Messing), the stay-at-home mommy with a seemingly ever expanding brood. When she announces to her girlfriends that she is "eating for two" again, and they offer a collective gasp of exasperation, Edie defends herself, claiming, "I want to keep going until I have a boy." Apparently her four daughters aren't fulfilling or don't complete her duties as a mother.

And so it turns out that The Women is all about men after all. By the film's end, the resolutely single and careerist Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening) has gone all gooshy for her new romance, and Mary is on track to reunite with her husband. Even the lesbian Alex joins in the celebration at the birth of Edie's long-awaited son. Whether in the form of a baby boy or a loving partner, The Women insists that women only find true happiness in men.

4


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.