Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Women (1939) and (2008)

A group of socialite women is shocked when one of their own, Mary (Norma Shearer) (Meg Ryan), is being stepped out on by her husband. Mary is unsure if she should confront her husband about the affair with the shop girl, Crystal (Joan Crawford) (Eva Mendes) or keep quiet about it till the storm blows over.

Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell in the 1939 version

I had misaligned expectations when I watched the original. I knew it was an all female cast, but that was about all I knew. I mistakenly was super excited about seeing a film that is all about girl power since this is a film made by women, obviously, for women. Instead, it was a bunch of hens who were delighted by each other's misery and even more delighted to gossip about said misery. I realize that is how women are stereotyped, but I really hated seeing that portrayal. It was a bit disheartening and made me have a hard time "enjoying" the movie.

Of course, having said that, the performances were really amazing. Norma Shearer was a wonder as the hurt wife. Rosalind Russell as the biggest hen of them all, without any loyalty whatsoever. Joan Crawford was delightful as the uber-bitch mistress, totally unapologetic about her role in the whole mess. I don't mind some women being shown as catty, because there really are some of them out there, but this film would have you believe the whole lot of us are like that and can't be trusted to be a true friend. That really made me uneasy about the whole film. I really should have enjoyed it for what it was probably, but somehow, I think I misplaced my funny bone.

Annette Bening, Meg Ryan and Eva Mendes (along the bottom) for the 2008 version

Fast-forward to the 2008 version, and my biggest disappointment is corrected. Instead of spending the entire movie tearing each other apart, they are supportive of each other. Instead of Sylvie (Rosalind Russell) (Annette Bening) sending Mary into Saks on purpose to find out the truth about her husband like in the original, she tries to prevent that from happening. It really is nice to see that change about how the women were portrayed.

The problem in changing that is that you really did lose something. The actresses didn't stand out as much in this version. The break-neck speed that I love in older movies, is slowed way down for the new version. The acerbic wit is mostly toned down because they aren't as bitchy now, and I really did love the wit of the original. Also, Eva Mendes, though seriously smoking hot in this, will never be the uber-bitch that Joan played so deliciously in the original. Joan's wicked performance in the bath tub scene was perfect in the original. Plus, at the end when Debra Messing is talking and she says, "and I am sorry I can't stay here long" I was already screaming at the TV, "PLEASE don't let it be a rush to the hospital labor scene with all the labor room antics. I am so sick to death of those scenes in romantic comedies!" Well, you can guess what happened there. So you can guess I really didn't enjoy the last 10 - 15 minutes of the remake.

So I realize I am totally talking out of both sides of my mouth on this. Why can't the updated one have the fast pace and the razor-sharp wit of the first, while retaining the theme of women friends actually WANTING the best for each other and supporting one another? You may wonder which one I liked better? If I had to rate the two, I would definitely have to say the original was a better movie, hands down. However, if you ask which I enjoyed more? Probably the remake, and that is pretty sad for me to say. I think you definitely need to see both and draw your own opinions.

For another take on it, please read Jenny's brilliant take on the original, as compared with another modern day chick flick, the Jane Austen Club. Check it out here.


kda0121 said...

The 1939 version of The Women is one of the all-time classics and as such, it didn't need to be remade. It is a wonderful movie, exploiting the conniving, bitchy, backstabbing that goes on with upper crust women, who seemed to have nothing better to do than claw at each other. What a marvelous display of wit, sophistication and a great example of how the hoity toity were portrayed.

Natasha Reed said...

I haven't seen the '39 version, but I have to say I didn't care for the '08 one much. Why can't the "Superwives" figure out on their own that they can't be these mythical figures. Who'd want to be married to that woman? I didn't like the Debra Messing delivery scene either. But what I really didn't like? Are the absolute extremes of all of "The Women." Why can't I be a frazzled magazine editor with a couple of kids? Why can't I be a wife who works in the community and is an ok mom. I know stereotypes are needed in art, but dang. Great review, now I want to see the original!

Jennythenipper said...

I still haven't seen the version of this movie. I can see why it was updated because even though the original has some greatness to it, there is no denying that it is a view of women that is hopelessly out of date. Is there a single woman in the movie whose entire aim in life does not involve marrying a rich man? Maybe there is still a bit of that around in our age, but I would hope that women have more a chance to be balance, rounded people. I'm sorry it sounds like the new film squandered that opportunity.

AbbyNormal said...

Karl - I have been thinking a lot about these since I watched them. I think I need to give the original some slack for when it was filmed and just enjoy the cattiness and claws.

Natasha - You should definitely grab the '39 version if you get a chance. You have a very valid point about how they tried to make the women "choose" between career, friends and family.

Jenny - I enjoyed it in a light and superficial way. I did like the update of the women being supportive instead of competitive. If I were you, I would probably give the newer version a pass unless it happens to be on and you are bored to tears.

Everyone - Thanks for the comments!

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