MOVIE REVIEW: ‘The Women,’ now on DVD, full of predictable female chaos

One. That’s how many humans with Y chromosomes show up onscreen in "The Women." Up until the last 30 or 40 seconds, that number was zero.

All of the primary, secondary and tertiary actors are female. Even in the scenes that take place in the middle of bustling New York City, there’s not a man in sight.

"The Women," now out on DVD, tells the story of best friends Mary Haines (played by Meg Ryan) and Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), two hard-working New York society women. At the start of the movie, Mary is a fashion designer/mother/fundraiser/do-gooder who lives with her 12-year-old daughter Molly (India Ennenga), husband (who is neither heard nor seen at any point during the film), and two live-in servants. Sylvie is the career-oriented editor of a women’s magazine she is determined to make more intellectual.

When Sylvie finds out from a chatty manicurist at Saks Fifth Avenue that Mary’s husband is cheating on her, she tells another friend, Edie Cohen (Debra Messing). The two women fret over whether to tell Mary, who learns of the affair from the same manicurist shortly after Sylvie does and is advised by her mother (Candice Bergen) not to tell her friends about it.

Predictable female chaos ensues when, after Sylvie and Edie tell their lesbian friend Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith) that Mary is being cheated on, Alex insists that Mary must be informed. The four women end up speaking all at once when it comes out that they had all known and chosen not to share. From there, the story goes on, sounding more and more like a barely grown-up version of the kind of gossip frequently heard in front of the mirrors in the average high school ladies room.

Based on the 1936 play and 1939 movie of the same name, "The Women" doesn’t live up to its potential. When Mary announces to her servants Maggie (Cloris Leachman) and Uta (Tilly Scott Pederson) that she has decided to divorce her husband, Stephen, you can’t help but be distracted by what she’s doing. To make up for a lack of classic comfort food, Mary dips a stick of butter into chocolate powder and then a glass of milk before chomping down. Somehow, I doubt that the purpose of the scene was to make viewers say "eww."

Many of the fights between characters are simply so absurd (and, often, the words so scripted) that laughter is unavoidable, and a potentially touching scene between Mary and her daughter is made snort-worthy by the fact that it started because Molly was making a miniature bonfire out of tampons. The secret to making a successful tampon bonfire, she tells her mother, is to start out using lites and work your way up to supers once it gets going.

The characters Edie and Alex disappear from the script about 40 minutes into the movie and don’t show up again until it’s almost over. And even when they are onscreen, they’re portrayed fairly simply. Both are two-dimensional, lacking enough depth to make them more than stereotypes. Edie’s the stereotypical mass-procreator (she gives birth to her fifth child, the Y-chromosome carrier mentioned above, at the end of the movie) and Alex is the stereotypical lesbian. Both characters are used more for comic relief than anything else, though they each had potential to be more than a joke.

Despite all this, "The Women" is fun. The dialog is often just witty enough to draw out a well-timed chuckle, and the plot is complicated enough to stay interesting. The story is about every imaginable relationship one woman can have with another: friends, family and everything in between.

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