So last weekend I went to see the new version of The Women and as soon as I left the theater I vowed to write about it here, it's taken me a while but here goes...
At first I thought that I hated the movie because I think the original is so fabulous. Here is a 1939 trailer for the film:
But then I realized that I was the only one of the women who I went with who had seen the original, and everyone universally disliked it, and one friend actually found it depressing. I'll warn you right now I'm going to reveal the ending, so if you have a need to not spoil it, by all means stop reading.
So the original film, based on Claire Boothe Luce's play, and with a screenplay by Anita Loos (who wrote the book, Gentleman Prefer Blonds) is snappy, witty and incredibly fun. The movie centers around Mary Haines (played brilliantly by Norma Shearer) whose husband is having an affair with a perfume salesgirl played by the irreplaceable Joan Crawford. The movie follows Mary as she makes the decision to divorce her husband, travels to Reno to get the divorce and in the end wins her husband back. All of these events are colored by the presence of Mary's mother, daughter and friends (notably the fabulously catty Rosalind Russell). In the new version of the film, Meg Ryan plays Mary Hanes as Meg Ryan (sorry Meg, I'll always love When Harry Met Sally, but you kinda phoned this one in). Eva Mendez plays Crawford's role, and doesn't hold a candle to Joan who while not sympathetic, at least comes off as a bit smarter. Anette Bening plays Rosalind Russell's role.
Other more minor roles from the original film are bulked up for the other major players and a few are lost. Like the 1939 version, the new film,(written and directed by Murphy Brown's Diane English) the film talks about men, but never shows them. It also, in some places stays very close the the original scrip, borrowing lines and pieces of dialogue.
The major difference between the original film and the new one is the the strange "girl power" bent that the new film takes on. After getting divorced, and losing her role in the family business, Mary decides to strike out on her own and design her own clothing line. Only after she is a success on her own does Mary go back to her husband. Finding a way to make this movie modern was probably not easy. At base it is about a woman who despite her husband's affair and all the gossip and humiliation surrounding it, still loves her husband. Even without ever seeing her husband on screen, Norma Shearer is able to convince the audience of this love, and the conflict it causes for her. Meg Ryan on the other hand is not nearly as convincing.
In the original film, with the help of some of her new and unlikely friends (fellow divorcees from Reno) Mary shows up her husbands new wife, Crawford who is having an affair of her own. In the original film Mary discovers that those she counts as friends are more interested in gossip and status than her well being, and that a gold digger and a rich old woman who has been married several times over may be the best friends she has. The Women's portrayal of vicious gossiping women may not be quite what we are looking for, but neither is the contrived "girl power" of Diane English's contemporary take on the story. Now the characters are too flat. Where before it was possible to see the nuance, even of Rosalind Russel's gossipy wife (who gets her comeuppance in the end), now the characters are just pale imitations of the ladies of Sex and the City and their strong bonds of friendship. For example the new film forces Anette Bening's character to gossip to save her job so that the audience is sure to sympatize with her, because we couldn't be counted on to do so if she was just a gossip. English's version of the film dumbs down the characters making them fit too neatly into good and evil roles, which is what makes Meg Ryan's reunion with her husband even more inexplicable.
I'll take 1939's bitchy, catty, smart and witty Women over 2008's flat and sappy women any day!
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