Girls still manage some fun in dusty remake of ’39 film

“There’s a word for you ladies, but it’s not used in high society outside of the kennels.” In the 19
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“There’s a word for you ladies, but it’s not used in high society outside of the kennels.”

In the 1939 original of “The Women,” Joan Crawford snaps off that verdict smack in the face of ladies cattily protecting the wife of the man she is stealing.

‘The Women’

WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Diane English

STARRING Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Deborah Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher and Cloris Leachman

RATED PG-13

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

In the updated version, a woman passes a version of the same line off as an aside, referring to an impolite stranger walking her dog. It falls flat, which is the fate of so many other bits of dialogue in the movie retooled by Diane English, an alumna of the “Murphy Brown” sitcom series.

The original creation of Clare Boothe Luce, this retread falls somewhere between “Sex and the City” and a Lifetime special. It is not insipid and, to be fair, there are a few moments when you feel as if you are in the presence of something fresh and original, even if you know the source is almost 70 years ancient.

Same old story

The story has not changed in this catty celebration of sisterhood.

It’s all about SAKS and a stream of charity events filling the vacuous lives of pretty ladies who may have too much time on their hands.

Still, even ladies with loot have feelings that can be hurt and trampled on.

It’s the department store manicurist who first gives life to the all-too-reliable rumor that the Wall Street husband of Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) is having an affair with Crystal, the cologne queen, a hot number played by Eva Mendes.

When Sylvie, the publishing executive played by Annette Bening, verifies the story, she goes into action with the help of two girlfriends, a lesbian played by Jada Pinkett Smith and another buddy portrayed by Deborah Messing. (Has to be a lesbian in there or it’s not appropriately modern.) You go, girls!

Poor Mary. She is flummoxed. Affronted on behalf of their friend, the girls confront Crystal in lingerie, where we observe Mendes’ tantalizing body clad in a scanty black getup. When Mary informs Crystal her husband won’t like this outfit, she responds, “If your husband doesn’t like something I’m wearing, I’ll take it off.” It’s a good one, straight from the original, and I can imagine that in 1939 this line zinged even more than it does today.

But that was yesterday, and now about all there is to do is catch the tidbits in a remake that makes even the spunky original seem old-fashioned. Besides, Mendes is no Joan Crawford and, bless her heart, Meg Ryan is no Norma Shearer. So the girls get together to help a friend, deal with a few duplicities, reunite, kiss, make up in more ways than one, and then finish it off with a fashion show and a birth.

Predictable fun

Perhaps here is where we will see our first male in a movie that conspicuously displays their absence. That’s all right with me, but even when Bette Midler shows up, and advises Ryan that a woman’s secret is not to “give a [crap] about anybody,” this light, comedic exploration of feminine discomfort drones along with humdrum predictability.

Ah yes, Bening exalts the experience, especially when she expertly conveys the neurotic insecurity executives feel as they ascend the corporate ladder. And what will feminists say when they hear Candice Bergen as Mary’s mom advise her that there’s nothing like a mistress to make a man realize how much he loves his wife?

Oh well, I bet the girls had fun making what turns out to be a stylized retread, little more than an updated curiosity piece originally inhabited by the cultural grandmothers of the women we encounter in “Sex and the City.”

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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