Doodad Kind of Town


Oh God, No! : "The Women," a Remake We DON’T Need
January 10, 2008, 1:43 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Normally the day my new issue of Vanity Fair arrives is a happy one. I pour myself a nice glass of wine and sink into the sofa to devour thoughtful, insightful entertaining articles, one by one.

Today, unfortunately, I opened the new issue in happy anticipation – and it fell open to reveal the most depressing news I’ve read in a long time:

They’re really going to make an updated version of “The Women.”

No, really! Look here’s the poster:

It’s been rumored for years – I remember hearing that Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan were attached to it at one time (horrors!)- but I never thought anyone would be stupid enough to really do it.

But the cast picture on page 136 of February’s Vanity Fair confirms it: Diane English (who created TV’s “Murphy Brown”) is directing, and while Julia Roberts is thankfully absent, Meg Ryan is right there in the center – surrounded by Jada Pinkett Smith, Annette Benning, Debra Messing, Candice Bergen, Cloris Leachman and Eva Mendes. Though she isn’t in the picture, apparently Bette Midler is along for the ride, too.

While I do like Benning and Leachman, this lineup does not inspire much confidence in me.


For the uninitiated, “The Women,” started life as a stage play by Clare Boothe Luce. It was adapted into a legendary MGM film in 1939, directed by George Cukor and featuring a stellar, all-female cast, multi-star cast – including Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Mary Boland, and Marjorie Main.

“The Women” is remembered – treasured even – for its razor-sharp satire of New York society women – their frivolousness, their deceit, their scheming and conniving amongst shopping trips and spa visits. (The play also included nice bits of commentary from maids, manicurists and shopgirls about the foolishness of their wealthy clients, although I don’t recall so many of those in the film.) To my mind, it really is very much of its own time, and not comfortably translatable to the 21st century. The machinations of the characters in “The Women” are largely borne out of the fact that these pampered society dames have no real power of their own, other that what they derive from gossip and backbiting. Their economic power, certainly, is entirely dependent upon their husbands’ earnings. And frankly, some of their celebrated pleasures – like manicures and massages – are easily accessible to middle-class women today.

(Plus – in one memorable catfight scene – there’s actual kicking, biting and hair-pulling. I’m thinking that kind of throwdown isn’t going to play too well to contemporary audiences. Or, more accurately, that English will be too politically correct to put anything like that onscreen.)

I can imagine that this lifestyle may still hold true for a few women in some rarefied bastion of high society, but it doesn’t appear that the remake of “The Women” is addressing them. According to Amy Fine Collins’ breathless copy, most of the characters in the remake have careers.

No major character in the original version of “The Women” worked – except the unmarried, wisecracking, best-friend-of-the-leading-lady, Nancy. I have a soft spot for that character, having played her in a 1991 Indianapolis production of the play; it’s always bugged me that the film version of Nancy is played by a squat, unattractive actress (Florence Nash) and all her best lines from the play are given to Paulette Goddard’s character.

No worries about the Nancy character this time – she’s been rechristened as Alex and turned into a glamorous lesbian played by Pinkett Smith. Rosalind Russell’s gossip monger, Sylvia, is now magazine editor, Slyvie (Benning.) Eva Mendes takes on the Joan Crawford role of Crystal, who as Collins excitedly reports has been “reimagined … as a Saks perfume spritzer.” Umm, excuse me, but wasn’t Crawford a perfume counter salesgirl in the original – what exactly got reimagined there?

Perpetually pregnant, cow-like Edith Potter (Phyllis Povah in the original) is now played by that redheaded practitioner of the Sledgehammer school of acting, Debra Messing. Ryan, of course, takes on the Norma Shearer role – only this time she’s also a clothing designer. Midler inherits the Mary Boland role of the Countess (“L’amour, l’maour!” – remember?), only this time she’s an ICM agent. That transition really had me scratching my head. Prediction: Midler will be chewing scenery throughout, leaving the other actresses looking wan and cowering in her wake.

The topper for me was this bit of casting news: “Cloris Leachman as Mary’s feisty housekeeper-with-a-heart-of-gold, Maggie.” Oh, no. That really spells disaster to me. NO ONE in “The Women” has a heart of gold except Mary Haines, the betrayed wife/Norma Shearer/Meg Ryan character. That’s the whole point of the story – that Mary has to learn to the play the games in order to survive and keep her husband. I’m imagining some kind of late-night heart-to-heart, tear-stained chat between Ryan and Leachman in the film’s eleventh hour – and frankly, the thought makes me want to scream.

In fact, I see a lot of words in that poster up above that have nothing whatsoever to do with “The Women” – words like “courage,” “compassion,” “girlfriends,” “joy” – blecch!!! There’s a place for all that, but it shouldn’t be in this movie. I’m already wondering what the merchandising tie-ins will be. I’m predicting the Dove Pro-Age product line will be doing a cross-promotion with “The Women” when it’s released. Remember, you read it here first.

(Photos from imdb.com, joancrawfordbest.com, and brightlightsfilm.com)

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1 Comment so far
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Hmmmmmmmm…I have to agree with some of your thoughts. I was HORRIFIED when I first heard they were going to remake it back in 2005. I was PRAYING that it wouldn’t happened. And for a long time nothing DID happen…then a friend of mine told me they started filming back in October and I was crushed. I love the original film and play (they did a wicked job of it on Broadway with Cynthia Nixon as Mary and Kristen Johnston was EXCELLENT as Sylvia) and I think it will be really hard to update this to modern times. It just won’t translate that well.Although some of the new casting I question, I will still go opening weekend to see it. It could end up being “kitsch” in some way, but it won’t compete with the original that’s for sure.We’ll have to wait and see.

Comment by MisterDuck




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