The witty and wise 1939 screen version of The Women, based on Clare Booth Luce’s play and helmed by “woman’s director” George Cukor, has been unfortunately refashioned as a Sex and the City wanna-be, in the process losing all the smoldering conflicts and zesty support system of its classic predecessor. In that version, Norma Shearer’s angelic society woman had to decide whether to stay married to a husband who dared to dally with Joan Crawford’s skanky shopgirl. With nary a male in sight but an all-female-cast to die for (Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard and Joan Fontaine were also part of the ensemble), the picture began with a playful title sequence and went on to examine females as complicated beings forced to simultaneously respond to social duties, potentially duplicitous acquaintances, and the demands of their own independent hearts. Predictably, this new version opens with a nod toward modern materialism (a woman mentally catalogues each item in a department store with an inner computer not unlike the Terminator’s) and then proceeds to offer contemporary stereotypes rather than memorable individuals. Here, everything has been smoothed out to the point of tepidity: Eva Mendes (as the hubby-swiper) is merely naughty where Crawford was lethal, and Russell’s role as a backstabbing “frenemy” has been transformed into Annette Bening’s tough-yet-tender editor. Meanwhile, Meg Ryan (as the jilted spouse) doesn’t stray too far from her established persona, while Jada Pinkett Smith’s casting in a worthless role (cut it, and the movie doesn’t change at all) demonstrates that writer-director Diane English was more interested in covering all demographics than in making any salient points about 21st-century girl power.
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