The Women
At Quality 16 & Showcase

1.5 out of 5 Stars

A curly-headed blond and her three friends juggle love, kids and careers in New York City.
No, it’s not “Sex and the City.”

It’s “The Women,” a remake of the 1939 George Cukor (“My Fair Lady”) romantic comedy of the same name. But 1939 was a different time, and Cukor’s portrayal of women is too overtly sexist for modern audiences. The remake by Diane English (TV’s “Murphy Brown”) is a self-conscious correction of the original — but, sadly, one devoid of all the wit and novelty that made Cukor’s film worthwhile.

Featuring an all-women cast as Cukor’s did, “The Women” assembles an impressive list of has-beens and never-really-weres. Debra Messing (TV’s “Will and Grace”) is mother-of-five Edie Cohen. Jada Pinkett Smith (“Madagascar”) is lesbian author Alex Fisher. And Annette Bening (“Running with Scissors”) is catty magazine editor Sylvie Fowler. Leading this pack of cheesy archetypes is Meg Ryan (“You’ve Got Mail”) as Mary Haines, the do-it-all wife of a Wall Street mogul.

The film primarily centers on Mary, who gets fired as a fashion designer and then discovers her husband is cheating on her with a perfume counter “spritzer girl” (Eva Mendes, “Ghost Rider”).

The film keeps Cukor’s original plot but gives it a modern spin. English was right to do away with some of the aspects of the original; she hints heavily about the overhaul, having characters ask things like “What is this, a 1930s movie?” and “What’s the modern thing to do?” Ultimately, Mary’s decision to stay in her marriage is justified with “It’s the 21st century; it’s OK for people to fight for their relationships.”

But the problem with English’s revision is the length it goes to apologize for its almost-forgotten predecessor.

In the original, Sylvie is deliciously conniving. She stops at nothing for gossip and revels in the ruin of the Haines’s marriage. The result is biting wit and a captivating villain. English’s Sylvie is a somewhat brash career woman who really has a heart of gold.

The only entertaining roles are periphery characters such as a gossip manicurist who spills to all of Manhattan that her friend “the spritzer girl” is diddling Mr. Haines. She exemplifies the mistake English made in reimagining a film driven by archetypes. By trying to humanize characters like the harpy Sylvie Fowler, English leaves the character dull and toothless. But the manicurist needs no point, and that’s alright.

The irony is that for all English’s corrections for sexism, audiences 70 years from now will (hopefully) find her portrayal of women just as questionable. One need only compare the films’ opening credits. Cukor’s version identifies each character as an animal, which is quite literally dehumanizing. English introduces the women by shots of just their legs and shoe choices, which is not only lackluster, but sexist in its own right.

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