The big buzz about Without Men, Argentine director Gabriela Tagliavini’s film adaptation of James Canon’s Tales From the Town of Widows opening in Los Angeles at the Maya Indie Film Series, seems to be about star Eva Longoria’s lesbian love scene with Kate del Castillo. And if that’s the kind of thing that floats your boat, you might well want to see the film; if not, there is little else to recommend it. There is a lot of sex in the film, but most of it is on the level of the dirty joke. It is neither stimulating, nor exciting. Certainly it is meant to be funny, but more often than not it is merely embarrassing.
Without Men is a comic fairy tale set in a small town “mucho mucho far away,” where all the men, except the local priest, have either been killed by revolutionaries or impressed into their service. Left alone the women are forced to take over, and after a hiccup or two, it turns out they can handle the job as well if not better than their bumbling men folk. They may need the men to keep the race going, but that’s about it. Longoria plays a bossy strong willed woman who becomes the mayor of the town after the men are gone, and while she does eventually get the women to work together as a cohesive community, and demonstrate that women can get along just fine without male supervision, it almost seems to happen in spite of her, rather than as a result of anything she does. If this is meant as a feminist statement, and I would suppose it is, it is feminism ‘lite.’ Still, it is a comedy, so what else could you expect.
Bright vivid colors in the town contrasted with the darker tones of the outer world emphasize the fairy tale quality of the film. It very much echoes the transition from black and white to color in The Wizard of Oz. Indeed the colors pop just as brightly. Oneita Parker’s costumes, except for the few scenes immediately after the men are taken when all the women but one wear widow’s black, burst with color as well. A bright musical score including some catchy songs adds an additional magical element to the film’s mise en scene.
Aside from Longoria, the film features a cast of other well known actors, most of them unfortunately with little to do. Christian Slater is an Anglo reporter who stumbles onto the story and goes off in search of the town. Camryn Manheim is his boss who gets to rant over the phone in a few scenes, once while receiving. . .well why spoil it for those who go to see the film. Oscar Nunez plays the village priest with broad gusto and Paul Rodriguez has little more than a cameo as the rebel leader. Del Castillo’s lesbian feminist is an over the top parody of the typical western’s lone stranger.
While it seems clear that the film aspires to be something more than a comic sex farce, my own feeling is that those aspirations evaporate in the leering sex. Sure there is a statement being made about human sexuality. Sure there is a satiric thrust at Catholic Church teachings on sexual morality. Sure there is some fun poked at the patriarchal social order. The trouble is that these things get lost in lame comic scenes where a madam teaches prostitutes and the rest of the ladies in the village about masturbation, where a virgin is taught how to get a man excited, where pornographic clichés are played out under an office desk. When it comes to the merger of sex farce and satire, Aristophanes has little if anything to worry about from Without Men.