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The Women (2008)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 12/21/2008

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/26/2008

When televisions became more prevalent in the 1950s, theatrical films began to face some real competition. In order to maintain their unique quality, the movie did what they could to be "bigger" and a more exciting experience than TV. Movies had the bigger stars and the image itself was bigger and widescreen. There were also gimmicks, such as 3-D. While the gimmicks have all but gone away (although 3-D has made a comeback), we must ask ourselves, "Do we expect something bigger and better when we go to the movies?" Should a theatrical film be better than what we can see on TV, or simply just as good? Those are the kinds of questions which we must ask when approaching The Women.

The Women focuses on a group of women who live in New York City and Connecticut. Sylvia Fowler (Annette Bening) is a fashion magazine editor who loves to shop. When she visits the salon at Macy's, she get a particularly chatty manicurist (Debi Mazar), who gossips about a rich man dating one of the perfume-counter girls. Sylvia recognizes the man to be the husband of her best friend, Mary Haines (Meg Ryan). As fate would have it, Sylvia is attending a party at Mary's house that very day. She arrives at Mary's along with her sister, Edie (Debra Messing), and their friend, Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith). However, Sylvia can't bring herself to tell Mary the news. Mary does eventually learn of the affair, and must make a new go at life, along with her daughter, Molly (India Ennenga). Mary must decide how/if she wants to confront her husband, and, similarly, how/if she wants to confront his new lover (Eva Mendes). Throughout this ordeal, the women learn that they can/must rely on each other in times of need.

The Women is a remake (and a fairly straightforward remake at that, as far as I can tell) of a 1939 film. I must admit that I'd heard of that film, but knew very little about it. The gimmick with The Women is very simple: there are no men in this movie. Even in the crowded street scenes in Manhattan, there are only women. (Although, I'm convinced that there's a "Where's Waldo?" thing going on here and that there are men somewhere in the background.) The female characters converse with men on the phone, but we never see or hear them. I don't know if the presence of males would have helped this lukewarm film.

The Women comes from Emmy-winning Writer/Director Diane English, who, as far as I can tell, hasn't made anything in a decade. During that time, she either forgot how television works or how feature films work, because her version of The Women is about as lackluster as a movie can be.

Is this a bad film? In the traditional sense of that concept, no. It's got a cohesive story with a beginning, a middle and an end, and it all makes logical sense. The film has a good look and English takes advantage of the New York and Connecticut locations. The acting is all competent, although I'm in the camp that doesn't have any interest in seeing Meg Ryan in serious roles. (Of the cast, Candice Bergen steals the show here, and she has the best lines in the film.) When making a good/bad checklist, the only part of The Women which truly falls into the "bad" category are some of the jokes. The one-liners here are painfully bad and the actresses must be doing a great job if they didn't cringe while saying them.

No, the problem with The Women is that there is simply nothing special about it. As noted above, I read about the 1939 version and the plot sounds very similar to this new film. Affairs and independent women may have been controversial topics in 1939, but there's nothing scandalous or revelatory about those ideas today. The story and events here are no different from something which we'd see in a night-time soap. The only difference is that this film is full of award-winning actresses. Even still, they are playing characters which will feel very familiar and the plotlines don't come close to being original.

So, this takes us back to our first point; Do you expect something extra special from theatrical films? If you don't, then you may like The Women. If you do, then you will wonder how all of these actresses were attracted to this project. While some of them appear to be giving it their best shot, the material is so stale and the jokes are so lame, that the movie can never muster any goodwill from the audience. There may be a strong bond between the characters in The Women, but the bond with the audience is non-existent.

The Women shows us that sisters are doing it for themselves on DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good and the image is never overly bright or dark. However, the image is somewhat soft at times (if this an artistic choice?) and the detail level on the image isn't all that high. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The street scenes in Manhattan provide OK stereo and surround effects which show nice stereo separation. The in-film music sounds very good. I didn't note any action from the subwoofer.

The Women DVD contains three extra features. In "The Women, The Legacy" (19 minutes), Diane English describes the history of the play and the 1939 film. We get clips from the older movie so that we can see how they parallel the remake. English then describes the process which went into making her movie. We then get an overview of the making of the film, which essentially explores the cast and characters, taking a few moments to focus on each actress. "The Women Behind The Women" (10 minutes) is a segment from Dove in which "Junior Journalist" Cammy Nelson gets to explore the making of the film. The piece looks at the film's production, but also touches on the self-esteem and beauty issues which are presented in the movie. (Some of the facts here are repeated from the earlier featurette.) The DVD contains two ADDITIONAL SCENES which run 6 minutes. This is dominated by a longer scene with Bette Midler.

Warner Home Video has also brought The Women to Blu-ray Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 22 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source film. The softness is still present here, but it's not as bad as the DVD. The depth in the New York City shots is good and the detail level is much better. The colors look very good, most notably reds. The Disc offers a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which runs at 48 kHz and a steady 640 kbps. While it's somewhat clearer than the DVD, this is essentially the same track as the DVD.

The extras found on the Blu-ray Disc are the same as those on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long