Sunday, August 9, 2009

Older Women Make Great Movies

We've come a long way, baby - all the way to 1974. That's the conclusion I've come to after seeing The Women, the 2008 re-make of the 1939 classic. But this movie, supposedly celebrating women, just drags out the same old tired rant I've been hearing since I was 4 years old: don't invest your life in love, marriage, and family. That sentimental cliche is just a trap devised by the patriarchy. Talk about an old movie!

1939's film The Women was rich with sharp observations, sly dialogue, and fun-to-watch bad girl behavior. With Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell in a sparkling Anita Loos screenplay, this classic is still hysterical. If you love vintage fashion and art nouveau design, you won't be disappointed. So the new version with Meg Ryan, Annette Benning, Eva Mendez, and Debra Messing, seemed to offer wit, dishy insults, and plush Manhattan views. But these Women miss the whole point of the classic Women, with its focus on female relationships, and then add insult to injury by adding a dated feminist slant complete with self-esteem jargon.

The original film's trailer said, "it's all about women." And it was - their real behavior, good and bad. I'm rather tired of the martyred heroine in so many movies. You know the one, the good and dutiful wife dumped by her husband who somehow rises above the mess to be an amazing mother and a career success. At the end of the movie she falls in love with Harry Connick, Jr. There are other stories out there, and the original Women showed the story of relationships women form with each other. Norma Shearer, Paulette Goddard, and Joan Fontaine showed us the prudent advice women give each other, the self-serving help that they offer, the delusions women have, and how they "get wise" to themselves. While the original movie's storyline does follow a marriage's demise due to infidelity, that's not the focus of the film.

What bothers me most of all about 2008's The Women isn't how it misses the big point of the original, which was a realistic portrayal of women, as daughters, mothers, and friends. It's how dated and untrue this movie's central theme is: that men and marriage limit women, keep women from the only success that matters, success in the workplace. Because according to Candace Bergen being a mother makes a woman "a failure." Devoting yourself to your family and eschewing a career shortchanges you and your children. This attitude along with the self-esteem touched on in the film really sets us back. For all the lip service to "female empowerment" and positive body image, this movies gives us the typical Hollywood ideal of supermodel-thin bodies and fashion. One of the characters, a darling little twelve-year-old says she "hates her body," so she gets the pep talks about valuing her true self. Then we see her grandma go in for a facelift. Meg Ryan, don't you see the irony?

The Women, from 1939, shows us what women really are with style and wit. The latest version re-made with a tired feminist agenda is doomed. It's far more out-of-fashion than the original.