Monday, September 15, 2008

Movies: The Women

This weekend, two of the top five grossing movies were written by and starring women. (Weekend estimates have The Women opening at #4 and The House Bunny hanging on at #5 in week four.) Take a moment to think about how cool that is. And the estimated #2, Tyler Perry’s The Family That Preys, stars Alfre Woodward and Kathy Bates, two formidable female actresses who are out of the Under 25 quadrant. It’s been a good weekend, by my books.

But what of The Women? I did go see it, trying to vote with my wallet, since I have no right to complain about a lack of female-driven movies if I’m not gonna see them when they do claw their way to the screen. I admit, I was a little apprehensive about this movie. The reviews were middling to poor, and I figure any film that takes 14 years to lumber onto the big screen probably has a few issues, a few bumps and scrapes. But I was pleasantly surprised, once I got over the crappy opening sequence and atrocious hairstyles.

But first, the good. The movie is marketed as an ensemble story, but at heart it’s primarily concerned with the emotional journey of Mary (Meg Ryan) and Sylvia (Annette Bening), and both of those storylines are carried through wonderfully. Neither break new ground (Mary learns to follow her dream and be her own person, Sylvia learns to stand by her principals), but both are handled well and in an entertaining way. Rounding out the gal pal quartet are Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Edie (Debra Messing), who don’t really have arcs or growth but nevertheless are charming and add a nice verisimilitude to the piece.

One line of criticism that stuck out in my head was Entertainment Weekly’s review, which said “The Women is such an arduous patchwork of ‘issues'’ it ends up a Frankenstein's monster of a chick flick.” I disagree wholeheartedly. While multiple issues are addressed, I felt that they were all in service of the plot. For example, EW says that, “For added relevance, Mary's daughter [Molly] (India Ennenga) has been made into a compendium of up-to-the-minute girl crises.” The daughter’s two main issues – nascent eating disorder, behavioral issues stemming from the separation of her parents – directly aid in the growth of Sylvia and Mary, as Sylvia realizes it’s the fashion magazine she runs that’s giving Molly the odd notions about how women’s bodies should look, and her acting out makes Mary reevaluate Sylvia’s friendship and her situation with her husband. Most of what I saw felt very organic and cohesive.

Which isn’t to say there’s no fat to be trimmed in the film. Bette Midler’s scene is hilarious but adds nothing overall to the film. I would have preferred her scene be jettisoned for more screen time for Jada Pinkett Smith, who got the short shrift of the four (though she was hilarious in the birthing scene).

But the movie does have some lumps, for certain. Either they’re a result of the movie being in production for 14 years, or they’re the reason it was in production for 14 years. I had a lot of trouble conjuring up the requisite Boo! Hiss! feelings I think I was supposed to feel for Crystal (Eva Mendes) because the whole storyline smacked of icky class issues. It just didn’t sit right with me. I think they could have had The Other Woman storyline without having the other woman being a gold digging lower-class minority woman, you know? It really just felt…icky. It didn’t sit right with me. I think that storyline could have been tweaked to make it seem less class issue-riddled.

And the styling! My god! I thought there was a code among chick flicks to keep the women looking fabulous! The hair across the board was upsetting. Eva Mendes looked smoking and Debra Messing’s hair was really nice, but everyone else got shafted. Annette Bening is a beautiful woman, more beautiful as she’s chosen to age gracefully and thus half of her facial muscles aren’t paralyzed like the faces of many of her contemporaries, but her hairstyle and lighting were doing her no favors. She looked honestly atrocious. Like the lovechild of Christine Baranski and Jocelyn Wildenstein. Why, why would you do that to someone like Annette Bening who requires minimal styling and probably looks lovely five minutes after she’s rolled out of bed in the morning? It’s almost impressive, how bad they made her look. And Jada didn’t get off much better, with hair styled into a fright wig. It was like a longer version of Michael Meyers really. And again, lovely woman, so lovely I thought it was impossible to style her badly, until I saw this movie. I did like the longer hair on Meg Ryan. Forgoing her signature short hair helped me forget that she’s the same woman who spent the better part of the 90s annoying the everloving crap out of me. (Never been a Meg fan, alas.) Still, even her hair was unruly and in her face half the time, making her look like a human shaggy dog. And while Debra Messing dodged the hair bullet, they did their best to stick her in some fugass clothes. Even the big, climactic fashion show where we get to see the clothes designed by Meg Ryan’s character was a letdown. The clothes were very pedestrian. If this was Project Runway, Nina would have been bored. So yeah, the styling on the movie was not good.

The opening sequence was really bad, too, especially compared to the rest of the movie. It opens with a shot gliding across the water and panning up to New York City, and as I’m sitting there watching that I’m thinking, “How many movies in the past thirty years have opened the exact same way? Gliding across water and panning up to take in a cityscape? Twenty? Thirty? More?” This sequence gives way to a montage of shoes, and in my head I start hearing Sarah Haskins doing a voiceover for Target Women. “You like shoes? I like shoes! Of course we like shoes, we’re women!”

Still, these bumps are easily forgotten, because The Women is a solid movie, entertaining, well-acted, with some interesting insight into female-female relationships. Definitely worth seeing.

Now that women seem to be doing well at the box office, I wonder what we have to do to get a solid female-driven action movie? I’d love to see something along the lines of Traitor or Righteous Kill starring a female or two. Or, hey, can someone greenlight Wonder Woman already?

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