Somehow, Diane English has managed to make the “Sex and the City” movie look like a documentary.
With her remake of George Cukor’s 1939 cat fight “The Women,” based on the play by Clare Booth Luce, English has applied all the lighthearted instincts of her sitcom background and seemingly none of the insights of the source material.
“The Women” was intended as a satire of society mavens and their frivolous lives; in directing for the first time and writing the script, the “Murphy Brown” creator has turned it into a celebration. Sure, it has an all-female cast of solid actresses, as did the original (though perhaps not quite the stellar collection that included Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell).
But Cukor’s tone and timing are missing: It’s as if English has included all the boutiques but none of the bite. And F. Scott Fitzgerald did uncredited work on the first script. Now there’s someone who knew a little something about class distinctions, a perspective that’s hard to match.
Meg Ryan does her patented cutesy thing in the Shearer role as Mary Haines, a wealthy Connecticut wife and mother who learns that her husband is having an affair. The other woman? Still the perfume girl at the Saks Fifth Avenue cosmetics counter, the role that helped catapult Crawford to fame, played here with cartoony va-va-voominess by Eva Mendes.
Mary’s friends, including magazine editor Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), rally around her in her time of need, offering snappy one-liners and broad facial expressions. Basically, their support consists of that great female pick-me-up, shopping. There are also lunches and dinners in which we must sit and watch the characters rehashing events we’ve already seen on screen, which is about as compelling as it sounds. It’s also a preferred tactic on “The Hills,” if that tells you anything about the amount of substance “The Women” offers.
But considering the potentially meaty issues these women are facing — marriage, motherhood, career, identity — all their troubles wrap up way too quickly and neatly. Mary whips up one of those self-help vision boards — you know, the kind Oprah espouses, based on her fervent following of “The Secret” — and she figures it all out in no time. (Besides extolling the oversimplified mysticism of author Rhonda Byrne and the like, “The Women” also serves as an ad for designers Narciso Rodriguez and Marc Jacobs and the high-end lingerie line La Perla. Even the no-nonsense Sylvie has her scruffy lap dog on a Burberry leash.)