(out of 5)
Years in development, this Meg Ryan vehicle is a remake of George Cukor’s perennial classic of the same title, based on the play by Clare Booth Luce. In both versions not a single male appears from beginning to end, even among extras in the crowd scenes (okay, in this one there’s a teensy adjustment, but it doesn’t change the overall effect). Ryan, in a badly overdone wig, plays a designer for her father’s geriatric-oriented clothing company who receives two blows in one week: her father fires her from her job, and she learns from a chatty manicurist (Debi Mazar) that her husband is having an affair with a sexy perfume counter girl (Eva Mendes). Meanwhile, best friend and magazine editor Annette Bening (filling in beautifully for Rosalind Russell) is having a hell of a time trying to decide how to handle her best friend’s situation while also trying to aim her publication towards the public’s intelligence and still have it sell. Diane English, creator of television’s Murphy Brown, displays the best talents that her experience on the small screen has to offer: rich characters who come to life in impressively quick periods of time, efficient turns of plot and realistic but witty and memorable dialogue. The screenplay updates the 1939 version effectively without changing much of the plot, this time including references to issues facing modern women without being preachy about it; look how blasé Bening is when she tells Ryan’s little girl that the models in her magazine are hardly a realistic image to rate yourself against. On the other hand, its feminism is about rich, white women, and if every woman could turn her life to a new direction while expecting a billion-dollar alimony payment coming her way, there would be plenty of gals writing shopping-guide books and becoming home grown fashion designers. The major error here, though, is in having English direct the piece as well as write it, and in her first time helming a feature film her soggy ears definitely show. The film is sloppily edited and unevenly paced, with Ryan’s slightly dull performance doing nothing to help matters, and Jada Pinkett Smith miring things down with her opaque turn as one of the gals in the inner circle. Updating the plot to make it more politically conscious of where women are since 1939 is a terrific idea, but the original piece was a hilariously bitchy premise: leave women completely isolated from men and they’ll talk about nothing else. Here they talk about everything else while angrily rationalizing their men away, and while it isn’t offensive, it isn’t nearly as fun to indulge in. The rest of the cast is superb, particularly Bening who basically whisks away with the entire project, and marvelous cameos by the likes of Candice Bergen and Bette Midler.
Directed by Diane English
Cinematography by Anastas N. Michos
Music by Mark Isham
Production Design by Jane Musky
Costume Design by John Dunn
Film Editing by Tia Nolan