www.ambiente.us  SEPTEMBER / SEPTIEMBRE 2008

Film Review: The Women

Over the last couple of decades, the battle for
women's lib seemed to many to have been won.
Yet though the situation may be better, the fight
goes on. Women are still paid less, occupy fewer
high-up positions in business and remain hugely
under-represented in politics. 2008 was the year
that many American women thought the tide
would finally change with Hilary Clinton's
campaign for the US presidency – and yet her
bid failed.

The choice by the Democratic Party of Barack
Obama as their candidate may still be a huge
leap forward for equal rights, him being the first
African American to gain the nomination of one
of the two big parties, but women have once
again been left on the sidelines. America must
continue to wait for its first female president –
and for how long, no one knows.

The situation of Hollywood actresses has long been indicative of one aspect of the problem. The glass
ceiling met by women in other areas of business is even more obvious in an industry where looks and youth
count for so much. Little wonder the old moan about how there are no good parts for women over the age of
40 is just as valid today as it was almost 70 years ago when the original version of The Women first came
out. Based on the hit 1936 play of the same name by prolific female playwright (and later politician, winning a
seat in the US House of Representatives in 1942 before becoming American ambassador to Italy during the
1950s) Clara Boothe Luce, the 1939 version of The Women was a bold experiment by director George
Cuckor.

Cuckor was one of late-Thirties Hollywood golden boys, not quite an early Spielberg, but certainly a big name.
Without this it is doubtful he could ever have persuaded MGM to finance a film with an all-female cast, not
least one based on a play with decidedly subversive sexual innuendo. As it was, the innuendo was cut out,
and the film rounded off with one of the most impressive casts that had yet been seen – including megastars
Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Paulette Goddard, Joan Fontaine alongside a host of top-
quality character actors. Not a single man featured on screen – and yet the film was a massive success, even
in a year widely regarded as one of the most successful in Hollywood history.

That we are getting a remake 70 years on, and that the all-female cast is still seen as a bit of a gimmick, may
be an indication of how short a distance we have come. This time, however, the surprise is as much in the
age of the big-name actresses on board: Meg Ryan (46), Annette Bening (50), Candice Bergen (62), Carrie
Fisher (51) and Bette Midler (62) are all still – bar perhaps Ryan, for whom this is a bit of a comeback – at the
top of their game, yet how often do they get starring roles these days? With Eva Mendes, Jada Pinkett Smith
and Debra Messing filling out the main roles, the cast is a superb one, and the updating both sympathetic to
the original play and film while being fully appropriate to a tale revolving around the suspicions and sexual
jealousies of wealthy East Coast society women. An entertaining and amusing acting masterclass, it's hard
not to see this as a manifesto for the "good parts for older actresses" campaign and a highly effective and
welcome one at that.


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