The Women is a rarity for a mainstream Hollywood film, and one of the most aptly titled: it’s a film made primarily by women, starring only women, aimed squarely at women.
Written and directed by Diane English, and starring a cast of powerhouse Hollywood actresses (Meg Ryan, Annette Benning, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing and Jada Pinkett Smith, with Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher and Bette Midler in supporting roles), it’s the ultimate “chick flick.”
The film opens on Sylvia (Annette Benning) as she prowls the floor of Saks Fifth Avenue. Sexy, professional, and bursting with Samantha-esque (of Sex in the City) confidence, she learns (via a chatty nail technician) that her best friend’s wealthy husband has been cheating on her.
Said friend (Mary, played by Meg Ryan) is preparing for an elite, ladies-only luncheon at her Connecticut estate, where we meet other best friends Edie (Debra Messing), the artist-earth mother and Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith), a best-selling book author and lesbian.
In short order, Mary finds out about the affair herself, and her friends confront Crystal — the other woman — in a hilarious scene at a perfume counter at Saks. Played by Eva Mendes in full tart mode, Crystal is the sexy, sultry, shallow villain of the piece.
Mary gets conflicting advice on how to deal from her closest pals: Sylvia encourages Mary to “Kick her ass!” when they hilariously find themselves in the same lingerie store as Crystal, while her mother (Candice Bergen) encourages a more old-school approach.
Meanwhile, Sylvia (really, our second protagonist) struggles against corruption and stagnancy as an executive editor at a high fashion magazine. Edie and Alex serve as supporting characters, forming a strong female foursome that vaguely recalls Sex In The City.
It’s certainly a slice of (heterosexual, white) female wish fulfillment, with all the fashion, gossip, and genuine female bonding along the lines of the aforementioned blockbuster, though The Women does offer slightly (very slightly) more diversity in terms of the characters.
As the sole lesbian character, Alex is portrayed without stereotypes or excessive attention paid to her sexuality. She’s smart, stylish, attractive and very successful — like any of the women in the film.
Despite the fact that she is a queer woman of color, she is never treated any differently, and clearly belongs to the core group of friends.