“How can I share myself with you if I didn't know who I was?”
The Women, a quality comedy/drama, counter-programs current female ensemble films by using source material from the 1930s play and film of the same title with an exclusively female cast. The male characters are heard about, but never seen as the main quartet of friends experience several up and down episodes.
Screenwriter/director Diane English orients the audience to the New York setting immediately then proceeds with rapid fire dialogue scenes and subplots full of parallel actions that show how damaging gossip and infidelity can be.
Meg Ryan, starring as Mary Haines, and Annette Bening, starring as fashion magazine editor Sylvia Fowler, represent the core duo as Jada Pinkett-Smith and Debra Messing complete the foursome. Mary, a super busy housewife, endures personal hardships along with her daughter Molly, played by newcomer India Ennenga.
Candice Bergen plays Mary's mom, Catherine, a straight shooter with witty one-liners and advice throughout Mary’s personal struggle. “Don't tell your friends because you'll end up taking care of them instead of yourself,” she advices Mary.
Maggie the housekeeper, played by Cloris Leachman, also has some great dialogue scenes as she tries not to get too personal with her “boss” Mary. “Mary doesn't look at the cracks because she's too busy filling them,” says friend Alex Fisher, an author played by Pinkett-Smith. Mary proves that life can be messy, but you don’t have to retaliate that way — even when her own friend gives her the green light to “behave badly”.
Eva Mendes plays a vampy "spritzer girl" named Crystal while almost unrecognizable stars Bette Midler and Carrie Fisher make short appearances in key roles that affect Mary and Sylvia respectively. Mendes exudes more than enough screen presence, but after a memorable introduction, her minimal antagonistic role fades away due to low screen time.
This modernization has great music, by composer Mark Isham, cinematography, and lighting – all creating a memorable movie. The film gets good mileage from the comedy and situational humor, which largely avoids the latest “loud and crude equals funny” formula. All the elements are there, so only one question remains – will audiences get drawn into it or be lulled away with aesthetic elements and star persona distractions?
This film, co-produced by Mick Jagger (yeah, the Rolling Stones frontman), will likely get a hot or cold audience reception, but follows the formula very well while mixing in enough originality, especially in the ending sequence with experienced mom, Edie, played by Messing. The film needs more character definition in the supporting cast, especially since it is hard to remember who wrote the Life and Other Distractions book mentioned in the ending credits, but these characters still contribute to a worthwhile story and emotional experience.
Recommended and rated PG-13 for sex-related material, language, some drug use, and brief smoking.