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Actresses outshine their roles

The Women (Ženy)

The Women (Ženy)

Starring: Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith
Directed by: Diane English
Running time: 114 min.
Language: English, with Czech subtitles
Rating: 6 of 10

THE WOMEN, by virtue of its title alone, is definitely a chick flick, but not in the vein of Steel Magnolias, or even Sex and the City.

The film’s four friends - Mary (Meg Ryan), Sylvia (Annette Bening), Edie (Debra Messing) and Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith) - are typically feisty New Yorkers who share love, laughs and tears. But, unlike Steel Magnolias, none of them die. This is far too light-hearted a movie for that. And unlike Sex and the City, these women prove finding bliss doesn’t have to involve a man. In fact, there’s exactly one male character ever shown on screen, and it’s not until the final scene.
Despite that, writer-director Diane English, one of the creators of popular ‘90s sitcom Murphy Brown, reminds the audience that many women live their lives in reaction to the men around them. Mary’s husband is having an affair with the perfume counter “spritzer girl” at Saks Fifth Avenue (Eva Mendes); Sylvia’s male boss is always threatening over the phone to replace her as editor of a top women’s magazine; Edie is constantly pregnant; Catherine (Candace Bergen), Mary’s mother, gets a painful facelift. Only Alex, a lesbian, escapes male tyranny.

Mary’s dilemma forms the centre of the story, as her friends and family gather round to offer advice and support. From helping her find the courage to confront the other woman in a lingerie dressing room to standing behind her as she starts her own business after her father fires her from his design company, Mary’s friends are with her every step of the way as she transforms herself from Connecticut housewife to Manhattan businesswoman. Sylvia, too, must learn to depend on herself and her friends as she tries to stand up for her vision of the magazine’s future against her stony boss. But, ultimately, it’s their friendship with each other that gives meaning to their lives.
Despite its fairly serious subject matter, The Women assumes a cheerful, witty tone throughout. There are only one or two fall-down laughing moments - perhaps the best is when Candace Bergen, wrapped in surgical gauze from chin to forehead following a facelift, announces:

“There are no 60-year-old women anymore. I was the last one.”

But there are enough chuckles and lots of smiles to compensate. In one subplot, Sylvia, in a desperate attempt to keep her job, confirms Mary’s impending divorce to a sleazy gossip columnist (Carrie Fisher) who corrals her in the middle of her workout. Feeling betrayed, Mary calls their friendship quits. But when Mary becomes too preoccupied with her failing marriage to pay attention to her 13-year-old daughter, Mollie (India Ennenga), Sylvie, though childless, awkwardly steps in to offer much-needed maternal advice about boys and sex. Eventually, the two women renew their friendship when Sylvia quits the job rather than compromise her principles any further.

More than the rather conventional and predictable plot, it’s the actresses that make this movie worth seeing. Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, and Debra Messing are all mature artists in control of their craft. Warm and playful, settled into their good looks, they’re a joy to watch. Candace Bergen and Cloris Leachman are masters, with some of the film’s best lines. The supporting cast is almost as good as the leads. Debbie Mazar, who plays a gossipy Saks manicurist, looks like she was born with an emery board in her hand. And Carrie Fisher manages to threaten, intimidate, and blackmail Annette Bening without missing a step on the elliptical machine.

Overall, this is not a challenging movie, not one to ask the big questions about life as a woman in the 21st century. It’s all about the actresses, and if these actresses are ones you want to see, it’s an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.

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