Sunday, December 21, 2008

DVD release of The Women (Ava and C.I.)

The Diane English directed, written and produced film The Women is now available on DVD. The release Friday offers Americans another chance to see the film.

A large number of critics slammed the film and, knowing over half the women involved, we avoided seeing it so that we could repeatedly respond, "Oh, I'm sorry, I haven't had time to see it yet."

We have now.
The Women

Is it worth renting?


It's not worth renting, it's worth buying; however, if you're unsure about the film or can't afford the $28.98 list price (it's on sale at most outlets), go ahead and rent it.

We watched with drinks at the ready prepared for many cringe-worthy moments and assuming we'd need the hard stuff to get through it. We never had a drink until after the film ended.

It was a pleasure to watch, a joy.

Are there things we'd have done differently?

Sure. Three specifics in fact.

1) In an early scene where Annette Bening insults a woman's outfit, the camera should close in on the woman who should register outrage. That's really needed because (a) it adds weight to the line (a reaction makes it real and not just something cleverly recited) and (b) a reaction from the woman would have extended the laugh.

2) In the first party scene at Meg Ryan's house -- Meg is badly lit, badly, badly lit -- and the camera angle is too low. This true only of that first scene.

3) If you're going to show a male in the final scene (a newborn baby), then you could have made time to show Mary's husband at the end, if only the back of his head.

Those are minor quibbles. The film works and critics who complained it didn't were apparently hoping for a bitch-fest, the sort of meow-catty thing the original film offered.

Bette Midler films should rejoice over her strong cameo and, if you already enjoyed the film in the theaters, there is a bonus scene with Bette, Meg and Annette on the DVD.

There is also a making of featurette which really deserves the disclaimer DVDs have started adding where the film companies say they're not responsible for the statements made during the commentaries or on the extras. For example, Diane English 'explains' that she just learned Joan Crawford didn't want to play Crystal in the original. WTF?

Joan Crawford fought for that part and, pay attention Diane, won it for the same reason you give for casting Eva Mendez in the role of Crystal. Diane tells people it has to be someone strong in the part of the woman who steals Meg Ryan's husband. Crawford convinced Louis B. Mayer to cast her by arguing that the part of the woman who steals Norma Shearer's husband can't be played by a little nobody.

For those who are wondering who's right, we are. We damn well are. We know what we're talking about. For example, Joan Crawford is not first billed in The Women. If Crawford didn't want to do the film, that's where she could have gotten out of it. Her contract guaranteed her top-billing. When previews of another film shortly after found Clark Gable billed above her, Crawford told Mayer he was in violation of her contract. Mayer explained to her that Gable was coming off Gone With The Wind and it would be good for the film to have Gable top-billed. And besides, Mayer pointed out, she hadn't been first billed in The Women. Crawford responded that the difference was she needed the role of Crystal. For the other film, Mayer needed Crawford and, she explained, Crawford always gets top billing. The credits were changed so that Crawford was listed ahead of Gable.

We were also bothered by English's recounting of the history of The Women. Meg's not mentioned in the history. But the project originates not with English as she maintained. The project originates with Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan and the two women's respective film boutiques. That's how English is brought on to the project. Roberts dropped out of the project early on -- after the reading of the script (with Candice Bergen) that English does remember. Meg's been attached to the project more or less throughout. This decade, the film briefly had Sandra Bullock attached to it as well as Meg.

Directors love to claim credit for everything and Diane English clearly establishes herself as a director -- both by rewriting history and by what she's done with The Women.

Find another director working with such a large cast who could get wonderful moments out of every performer. You won't. Many of the actresses are doing their best work in this film. Jada Pinkett Smith, for example, is an actress who has been wasted this entire decade but she shines in The Women. Debra Messing is so wonderful you forget some of her film misfires and she ends any speculation that her talent couldn't transfer to the big screen. Debbi Mazar is hilarious and touching.

Meg Ryan and Annette Bening are the anchors for the film and they both strut their stuff and then some. Solo in the film, they are something to watch. Together, they're providing film heaven.

So why did the film fair poorly?

A number of critics hated it. It also had an awful, awful marketing campaign. No one needed to see Candice Bergen's tired face in the commercials. (That's not an insult to CB, she's made up in that scene to look tired. Her character will have a face lift later in the film.) In the commercial, that scene is sliced and diced to make it appear that upon learning her son-in-law is cheating on her daughter (Meg), she offers her daughter the advice to start drinking. It's not funny and it makes her seem brutal, not brittle. In reality, her line about drinking is in response to learning her daughter just lost her job.

That scene with Candice shouldn't have been used in the commercials and trailers to begin with because Candice looks bad and people aren't thinking, "Oh, it's for the part." They're thinking, "She's lost her looks." And restructuring the line about starting to drink turned off a lot of people. The marketing was a huge mistake.

S**t is said in a scene and it could be deleted, replaced or bleeped in a commercial.

That's how the film should have been marketed. The scene where Meg and Eva come face to face. For TV, the ad could have started with Meg walking into the dressing room and exclaiming, "Oh! S**T! Are you kidding me, are you kidding me?" The way it would have worked was with Meg's entrance and exclaiming "Oh!" Then the film freezes and announcer asks, "Why is she so upset?" The film moves again with Meg asking, "Are you kidding me, are you kidding me?" And it runs right through -- for thirty seconds -- of that scene. It would have filled the seats. Both women are 'packed' into their tops (they're shopping for lingerie). They both look wonderful and the scene's not giving anything away. Eva and Meg have no relationship in the film (and only share that scene).

It's a shame that yet another film has been destroyed in marketing. But maybe DVD can give The Women a new life? It deserves it. Diane's done an amazing job directing. Meg's created a full blown character and uses everything -- her voice, her face, her body and her hair -- to bring the character to life. (Her hair? When Meg's character finally 'awakens,' the actress straightens her hair. And looks so much better.) Most of all, it's a film you really need to watch with a friend. If you're not able to, be prepared to call friends after. What was a catty, bitchy play in the thirties has been turned into an ode to friendship.
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