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The Women (2008)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although the content of this dramedy is actually on the tame side -- there's a little bit of swearing, drinking, and smoking, and some sex talk, but no outright nudity -- it deals with mature themes, including infidelity and betrayal. One of the casualties of adult characters' marital discord is their child, a painful issue that's handled with a certain flippancy that might be confusing for younger viewers, especially given that the tween in question appears to be truly struggling over her parents' problems. Also expect lots of shopping and label-dropping -- and more than a few jokes about already-thin women and girls needing to lose weight.
What's the story?
On the surface, Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) appears to have it all: a successful husband, a great daughter, a big Connecticut mansion, a career as second-in-command at her father's clothing business, and three lifelong friends -- magazine editor Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), writer Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith), and uber-mom Edie Cohen (Debra Messing). Which of course means that everything's about to go to pot. By way of a chatty manicurist, Sylvie discovers that Mary's husband is having an affair -- and soon Mary finds out about it, too. Her old-fashioned mother (Candice Bergen) suggests turning a blind eye, but Mary's not so sure that's the way to go. In fact, she's not so sure what she wants to do next. Or who she is, for that matter.
Is it any good?
A remake of George Cukor's 1939 film (based on Claire Luce Booth's play), THE WOMEN does its target gender a disservice by shooting for the moon and landing with a thud. Except for a handful of zingers, the dialogue is short on spark, and despite an impressive cast, it's woefully lightweight and lacking the original's verve. You can sense that director Diane English is straining to make a grand statement about the place of women in this hectic, pressured, beauty-obsessed, desperate, and overscheduled world. But she does so by taking shortcuts, slotting her leads in flimsy, stereotypical roles: the Earth mother (complete with flowing outfits), the workaholic, the superwoman, the lesbian, the temptress. Modern women are far more complex than this. Must every movie with a big female cast play like a Sex in the City retread?
And yet, for all its failings, The Women isn't a terrible way to spend two hours. The women are likable enough, the story sympathetic enough. There's plenty of eye candy, too; theirs is the New York of chick-lit novels, filled with shopping escapades -- at Saks, primarily -- and great clothes and pretty hair. And there's a message in there somewhere as well: When Meg/Mary says "I've spent all my life being something to somebody, and somebody's always disappointed," it resonates. After the clunky first third, the movie starts to find its footing. But even though English may have intended to cook up a gourmet meal with The Women, in the end it "satisfies" more like junk food.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the movie portrays women. Overall, do the characters come off positively or negatively? Do they seem realistic? Are their relationships with each other believable? What does the movie say about friendship? If you've seen the 1930s original, how does this one compare? Have the messages changed? Families can also discuss the real-life consequences of marital problems like infidelity.