“The Women”: Still zingy after all these years

 
 

Ah, 1994. I remember it well. Sandra Bullock was America’s sweetheart after she drove a bus and flirted with Keanu Reeves in Speed; who could’ve predicted that the pair would reunite to absolutely zero acclaim 12 years later in The Lake House?

On TV, Friends began its long run on NBC, while on ABC, These Friends of Mine, later re-titled Ellen, featured Ellen DeGeneres as a bookstore owner who had a comically tough time dating men. I think we all know how that ended.

And little me kept repeating, “I’m getting verklemmt!” “You’re terrible, Muriel!” and “La Croix, sweetie, La Croix,” to anyone within earshot.

Elsewhere in Hollywood ’94, writer-producer Diane English, who was riding high with Murphy Brown (remember?), was shopping a script for a remake of the 1939 camp classic The Women. Well, 13 years, a couple of directors, multiple casting changes
and several false starts later, the movie is finally set to go into production this summer, with a cast that includes Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith, Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Debra Messing and Candice Bergen — quite a star-studded assemblage.

The original bitchfest starred an array of its era’s best female actresses — including Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine and many more — as catty high-society ladies.

When Crawford’s unapologetic homewrecker sinks her Jungle Red nails into sweetheart Shearer’s husband, high jinks and caustic dialogue ensue. The George Cukor–directed knockout famously featured zero males onscreen (and there were 130 roles!), though the entire movie is really about the women’s relationships with men and what the ladies will do to bolster their rank with their beaux. (Or what they’ll endure to procure a divorce in Reno, as the case may be.)

According to Variety, English’s script “maintains the arch spirit of the original, and the all-female cast, but the gals aren’t as relentlessly catty this time around.” Hmmm. I agree that no one can deliver a zinger quite like Russell or Crawford, but I hope all that means is that she’s giving new life to some of the dated barbs.

I dunno. I’m of two minds: It’s generally not a good sign when films gestate for more than a decade, and it’s hard to believe that even this resplendent coterie of talent can top the brilliant predecessor. And sometimes it’s a good thing when the writer is also the director and the producer (hi, Star Wars: A New Hope!), but sometimes it’s really not (what’s up, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones?). And let’s face it, most remakes are just plain awful (I’m looking your way, The Stepford Wives and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). One wonders whether the script got continually passed on for a reason. (Perhaps it’s missing its signature catty dialogue.)

Besides which, will the story of gossipy, back-stabbing Manhattan socialites really play in our post–Sex and the City, post–Paris Hilton world? And can English pen dialogue as witty and withering as, “You simply must see my hairdresser; I detest whoever does yours”?

On the other hand, I’d pay $10.50 to watch Bening and Bergen file their nails for two hours, so I’m hoping against hope that the adaptation of one of my favorite classics at least lives up to its original.

Barring any more glitches, the movie is slated to film in August and hit theaters next year. In the meantime, I’ll follow the advice of The Women’s Countess DeLave (Mary Boland): “Get me a bromide — and put some gin in it.” Actually, that might well be words of wisdom from Ab Fab’s Patsy Stone, likely delivered way back in 1994, when Keanu showered and Ellen was straight.

 
 

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