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Sexless in the City

MOVIE REVIEW
The Women (2008)

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Claudette Barius/Picturehouse

Some might call “The Women,” a remake of the 1939 George Cukor classic based on the Clare Booth Luce play, the ultimate “chick flick.” Let’s be clear: It might feature only women and it might be geared toward women, but both sexes will surely unite in contempt for it. The feature film directorial debut of “Murphy Brown” creator Diane English, the movie contains shrill characters, an almost total absence of a narrative and lots of boring conversing as filler.

Meg Ryan stars as suburban housewife Mary Haines, who seems to have it all: a rich husband, a mansion in Connecticut and a young teen daughter. By extremely unconvincing happenstance, however, her world begins to crumble. A chatty manicurist (Debi Mazar) unknowingly tells her of her husband’s affair with Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes), a Saks Fifth Avenue perfume girl. As the same manicurist has already informed Mary’s best friend Sylvie (Annette Bening) and Sylive has told their other best friend Edith (Debra Messing), an opportunity for lots of angry commiserating and revenge plotting presents itself.

Ms. English fails to give the screenplay much structure. Instead, after the initial revelation of the affair, it consists of lots of little developments and mini-crises. Things never advance cogently, and the entire production feels more like a super condensed season of a TV series than a contained work of cinema. Everything feels sanitized, freshly scrubbed and entirely in the Manhattan fantasy realm, an aesthetic that contradicts the apparent attempt to seriously deal with important issues facing modern women.

The leads, also including Jada Pinkett Smith, give fine performances. Ms. Bening, in particular, is very charismatic. But they’re playing the sort of high-society women that invite mostly scorn from those of us not accustomed to their milieu. It’s hard to feel too bad for Mary given her palatial home and the fact that we never see her husband on screen. Her crisis never seems enough of a crisis to merit much sympathy, and “The Women” languishes in sub-par, over calculated dramatic territory.

THE WOMEN

Opened on Sept. 12.

Written and directed by Diane English; based on the play by Clare Boothe Luce and the motion picture screenplay by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin; director of photography, Anastas Michos; edited by Tia Nolan; music by Mark Isham; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Victoria Pearman, Mick Jagger, Bill Johnson and Ms. English; released by Picturehouse (United States) and Entertainment Film Distributors (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 12A by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Meg Ryan (Mary Haines), Annette Bening (Sylvie Fowler), Eva Mendes (Crystal Allen), Debra Messing (Edie Cohen), Jada Pinkett Smith (Alex Fisher), Carrie Fisher (Bailey Smith), Bette Midler (Leah Miller) and Candice Bergen (Catherine Frazier).

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