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The Women Review

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When wealthily wed Mary (Ryan) learns her husband is having an affair with sexpot Crystal (Mendes) she throws him out, clashes with her girlfriends and hides out at a spa where she is inspired by an oft-married man-eater (Midler) to take control.

★★★★★

A contemporary remake of George Cukor’s hysterically witty catfight classic of 1939 always sounded weak. But over the years, actresses from Jane Fonda and Barbra Streisand to Uma Thurman have flirted with the property. The original adaptation of playwright Clare Boothe Luce’s sensational bitchfest is remembered not only for its all-star, all-female cast (Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell...), but for simply divine costumes and screamingly funny rivalries. There has been a previous remake, 1956’s so-so The Opposite Sex, starring June Allyson and Joan Collins. That blew the women-only gimmick by adding men (Leslie Nielsen was the husband!). This blows it, in part, by eliminating the class struggle of society dames united against a working girl on the make. But that’s only one of its problems.

At pains to be modern, this reduces Mary’s social set to a quartet of bosom-buddies who all have careers and, what’s worse, actually care about her. Tousle-maned drip Mary (Meg Ryan), dreary personal style notwithstanding, is a designer. Annette Bening’s Sylvia is a driven magazine editor and, far from the maliciously madcap mischief-maker of the original, the lynchpin of the sisterly solidarity parable this has become. Jada Pinkett Smith is there merely as a stereotypical black lesbian buddy, and Debra Messing the serially pregnant maternal type whose squawking labour unites estranged galpals in a too-familiar delivery room scene. Scheming Crystal (Eva Mendes, confined to a few petulant confrontations) and original plotting are forgotten in favour of post-feminist debate about having it all and Mary’s tiresome prepubescent daughter.

Director Diane English, a former TV comedy writer-producer (notably on Candice Bergin’s sitcom Murphy Brown), makes her directorial debut here, but clings to her TV sensibility. The picture looks flat, the lighting is poor, and she gives all the best lines to Bergin. “Face lift at two o’clock! She looks like she’s re-entering the atmosphere!” Cosmetic surgery and drinking inspire the choice one-liners, without anyone seeming aware of the irony that most of the cast appear to have indulged in one or the other.

It’s like an alternative-reality Sex And The City with unfabulous clothes. A bad idea’s made worse by below-average execution and underwhelming performances.

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