Making the Grades
Apparently banking on the success of such estrogen-laden films as Sex and the City and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Women (a remake of a 1939 movie) features a cast made up entirely of females. The lack of a single male on screen only emphasizes the story's theme that men, like a great purse or fabulous scarf, are a mere accessory.
The script focuses on four female friends living in the hub of New York. While getting her nails done, Sylvia Fowler (Annette Bening), a high-powered magazine editor, unwittingly discovers her best friend's husband is fooling around with a sales clerk (Eva Mendes) at the perfume desk. The juicy tidbit comes from an excessively chatty manicurist (Debi Mazer) who believes her job description includes entertaining her clients with the latest gossip. Torn over whether or not to tell Mary (Meg Ryan), Sylvia eventually confides in Edie (Debra Messing), a burgeoning, expectant mother who already has a growing brood at home. They also let their lesbian pal, Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith) in on the news.
Yet, unbeknownst to them, Mary has already found out about her husband's infidelities. Confused over what to do, she seeks her mother's (Candice Bergen) advice. But coming to terms with her situation isn't easy. Luckily, while Mary's friends occasionally prove to be more of a hindrance than help, her housekeeper (Cloris Leachman) is a voice of reason -- and one of the truly enjoyable characters in the film.
Only after Mary engages in a prolonged marijuana sharing experience with another recovering divorcee (Bette Midler) does she make a plan to get on with her life. Too bad it takes drugs to clear her head and a philandering mate to set her on the path to self-fulfillment.
However, if this film is supposed to inspire women of a certain age (namely mine) about the benefits of female empowerment, it falls painfully short. Prior to her break-up, Mary's involvement in community events, volunteering and childrearing are all depicted as minimally important and it seems she's only fulfilled after giving up those activities to "find herself". Meanwhile, although Sylvia's career appears to be headed in the right direction, it doesn't take long to discover she ultimately has to have her ideas okayed by a man. On the other hand, Edie's life is a raucous rat race of screaming children, crude pregnancy jokes, labor pains and an absentee husband. And Alex, who chooses to shack up with another woman to avoid all the problems of dealing with men, is so underdeveloped that she and her petulant partner (Natasha Alam) are practically useless in the storyline. Crass sexual jokes, a profusion of profanities and highly judgmental comments about what others are wearing make these women seem superficial rather than strong and sensible.
While the script purports that men are of little use in a woman's world, the reality is that these girls don't do an amazing job of running their little spot on the planet either. But without any men showing up on screen, these girls have no one but themselves to blame for their problems.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Women.
Although there are no men in this film, what unseen male characters are still portrayed and what impact do they have on the women in this story? Why do you think the moviemakers chose not to include any men? Without being able to make our own assessment of Mary’s husband, whose opinion are we forced to accept?
What positive things do Mary’s friends do to support her? What things are more of a hindrance for her? How can a person best help or encourage a friend during difficult times?
What do you think Mary’s mother means when she says there is nothing like a “heavy does of mistress to make a man miss his wife”?
What does this film say about making mistakes? Do you believe betrayal is a part of all relationships? What does Mary learn about forgiveness? What other characters practice letting go of hurt and injury?