In this corner, catty, clever and classic, The Women. Mother of all chickflicks. And striding confidently into the ring high atop a pair of Manolos, currently raking in the big bucks all over the world, the HBO phenom brought to the big screen with big hype and big box office to match: Sex And The City.Â It’s a cat fight for the ages.Â Ladies?
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Carrie and Miranda and Samantha and Charlotte leave the small screen behind for the multiplex in Sex And The City(2008). Older but no wiser, they give their legions of fans a little taste of what ever happened to. Will she or won’t she? The earthbound screenplay grounds them from taking full flight with only the pale rhythm of wit and no real follow-through. The four squeal like schoolgirls and act like little kids playing house and dress-up. (A word about the real heroine of the entire franchise: costumer Patricia Field.Yoinks. Evoking oohs and ahs with every costume change, this visionary never stops to ask herself: “Does this go with that?”Â Taking Japanese street fashion ethos and raising the couture ante and price tag to astronomical, a ride so exhilaratingly awful it’s actually quite wonderful, Ms. Field might be True Genius. Possibly an evil genius but genius nonetheless. Kudos.)
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The Defending Champion
Only two big female stars under contract at MGM at the time don’t appear in the film The Women (1939) –Â Myrna Loy and Greta Garbo. Starring Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell,Â Joan Crawford, Paulette Goddard (playing the only one of the wholeÂ species I’d really want for a friend), and a cast of over one hundredÂ take the Clare Booth Luce play for a cinematic ride worth its weight inÂ estrogen. No male images appear on the screen for the duration — noÂ male animals, no photographs, no paintings. None. Stunning and moreÂ than a little disheartening that this achievement is still noteworthyÂ some sixty-nine years later, considering that so many films since haveÂ graced our screens with exclusively male images, The Women’s trick has never been repeated. A woman loses her man and wins him back again. It’s been done before and since but never with so much ado and brio. Â How can you not love a film that features a real catfight between Rosalind Russell and Paulette Goddard? No stunt doubles. With real biting.
They (some scientists â€“ I donâ€™t know who â€“ just they)Â recently discovered that women are not significantly stimulated byÂ images of naked men. Apparently, women preferred images of monkeysÂ copulating to images of undressed males. I’m no scientific expert onÂ female arrival, but I suspect those scientists missed a sure bet. HotÂ monkey love may trump naked guys, but according to the orgasmic sighsÂ and oohs and ahs of the estrogen-charged matinee audience at the localÂ multiplex, expensive shoes and oversized uplit closets, are the newÂ millennium’s no-fail porn.
I don’t know how else to explain the huge success of SATC.
How far we have not come, baby. The women in The Women change partners and hats. And watch fashion shows.Â Thelma and Louise pillage, plunder, and ultimately plunge off a cliffÂ in the name of friendship and misguided feminist rage. Samantha,Â Miranda, Carrie and Charlotte strive and consume and pose and eat andÂ drink and pose some more.Â (As for fashion shows, I’ll take the datedÂ and funny Technicolor one from The Women over the already-dated and instantly hilarious one from SATC.)
So. What do women want?Love and labels.That’s the SATC premise and raison d’etre. Is that reallyÂ hat we want? Seriously?Â Iâ€™m asking. Because I must have missed something in the manual ifÂ that’s the deal. For me, that’s a gay male fantasy of what women want.Â The women in SATC don’t feel fully realized to me. Like BratzÂ dolls come to plasticized flesh-y half-life, they preen and suffer andÂ yammer in an unconvincing version — more female impersonators thanÂ female persons.
What do they/we want? BigÂ closets? If the scores of women in the weekday matinee audience are anyÂ indicator, big closets are the non-stop ticket to Nirvana and beyondÂ with goofy looking expensive shoes coming in a close second. Not toÂ mention truly garish jewelry.
Apparently they/we also strive inexplicably for unworthy sub-standard men.
Big: The meal ticket. The sugar daddy. Who pays forÂ everything and never seems to work to afford any of it. Who marries atÂ the drop of a hat. Who marries until it matters. Who looks likeÂ vinyl on the big screen, his man-tanned giant face smoothed somehow ofÂ all expression, the human equivalent of Muppet eagle Sam, all eyebrowsÂ and meaningless smirks. Â Does Mirandaâ€™sÂ careless comment about marriage really influence Big? Isnâ€™t he immuneÂ to everyone? (Am I thinking too hard? Why can’t I just lay back andÂ enjoy it?)
Steve: the Wussy guy who cries and confesses hisÂ carnal sins as he shares the housework and trundles off Mirandaâ€™sÂ borderline retarded trophy child to keep him effectively out of herÂ sight and out of her mind?
Hairless Harry: A good husband. If decidedlyÂ marrying way out of his league with the terrible actress butÂ unarguablyÂ pretty Charlotte.
Smith: Blond boytoy and superstar in his own right. WithoutÂ needs or flaws. He comes home from work late on Valentineâ€™s Day. TheÂ unforgivable sin. That, and not being the hot new meat next doorâ€¦WasÂ there ever so gay-male a fantasy attributed to a woman? Let’s face it — isn’t SamanthaÂ Jones ultimately just a gay man in a womanâ€™s body? A body splayed on aÂ slab like a sushi- ecked corpse in an episode of Dexter. Mad props toÂ Ms. Cattrall for daring to expose her half-century old flesh and a bigÂ slap in the face to Mister King for asking her to do it.
Poor little Brady Hobbes. How old must he be now?Â Five? Seven? Taught phonetically to say â€œHappy New Year!â€ like aÂ retarded parrot. Oh, and he eats in restaurants. Brady’s a genius compared to Charlotte’s adopted daughter. The only underachieving little Asian girl in theÂ country. She barely speaks. An accessory to decorate andÂ carry around when convenient. A puppy in a dress with her own room meant only to match AuntÂ Carrieâ€™s outfit. A Luis Vuitton purse with eyes and a little lessÂ personality.
But more important: Why are the romantic comings andÂ goings and comings of such catty, venal selfish beyotches now the stuffÂ of aspiration instead of the target of timeless social satire as in The Women? Put more Bradshaw-esque: Why do todayâ€™s women want to BE the women of Sex and the City?
AreÂ these women really friends at all? Whatâ€™s friendship anyway? Oh, IÂ admit that those endless brunches look lovely, and the idea of growingÂ fashionably middle aged with a group of familiars week by week, knowingÂ every current of thought, every passing fancy, every fancy pass droppedÂ or thrown or completedâ€¦that intimacy over time has its appeal. But theÂ women themselves. Would they ever be able to stand each other?
Youâ€™d haveÂ to suffer Samantha Jones. Totally worth it. Sheâ€™s a magic trickÂ incarnate, an all-access pass to everything and everyone — Miss Jonesâ€™Â Manhattan is just a giant Hogwarts. Nothing is out of her graspingÂ reach. And since she takes nothing seriously, sheâ€™s game for theÂ teasing and ridicule she more than earns. That said…When Samantha lets herself go and gets “fat” I honestlyÂ didnâ€™t notice sheâ€™d put on weight. And let me just go on record to sayÂ that I blessedly can not imagine any friends of mine making fat jokesÂ at my expense. Fifteen pounds added to a thin frame, especially forÂ someone in middle age, just isnâ€™t that much of a newsflash. RealityÂ check: not one audience member was as thin as Miss Jones at herÂ fattest.
Charlotte. Married with children. VirtuallyÂ invisible, adorable children. She’s exactly the kind of adorable that’sÂ impossible for me to love. A girl woman who’s so correct, so East Side,Â so girly that her bodily functions are the occasions of the highestÂ mirth, her fit of righteous anger is curse-word- ute. Adorable. Not.Â Even her pregnancy is a veritable bouquet of sitcom-staleness, aÂ cornucopia of onvenient corn. Her water breaks right on schedule…theÂ only detail missing is husband Harry’s fumbling for the car keys orÂ forgetting her suitcase on the way to the hospital. I’d hate her, but IÂ have to admire the actress who had the clout and foresight to sign offÂ on a nudity rider early on. Small favors make up for a lot.
Miranda is all earnestness (and more ill-advisedÂ nude scenes), the handsome woman whoâ€™s settled, the cautionary tale forÂ serious career types. Too smart (though it rarely shows â€“ herÂ intelligence reveals itself primarily in her no-nonsense short haircut and phosphorescent pallor, her disturbingly marked resemblance to DavidÂ Bowie in the Ziggy Stardust years) and too busy for any real motheringÂ or it seems even wife-ing, her only son reduced to a clothed housepetÂ that eats at the adults table occasionally and requires a full-timeÂ paid guardian. Sexless from the Old Country MagdaÂ ho needs nothingâ€¦theÂ wife and mother to all, cooking and providing child care so Miranda canÂ globetrot and work in a rarely seen fasttrack career. MirandaÂ is never really happy â€“ not when she gets married, not when she has aÂ baby, not when she finally leaves her unhappy marriage, and not evenÂ when she returns to it. She is consigned to her lot, all resignationÂ and duty. Whatâ€™s the point of having her at your table except to makeÂ you feel lighter and happier by contrast? Her snarky commentary has theÂ rhythm of wit with no actual comedy or cleverness. (Oh, and one moreÂ thing as long as I’m carping ad nauseum. Was that up close and personalÂ depilatory crisis necessary? Or just cringeworthy? Like most big screenÂ sex scenes. Less might actually be more.)
Carrie. Oh, Carrie. Norma Shearer and SJP look a tad equine, a littleÂ cross-eyed, a little less glamorous than the leading lady of a movie might.Â Perhaps that’s the key. An achievable Everywoman beauty at the center of the tempest. Does anyone believe that Fag Hag Carrie never saw Meet Me In St. Louis before? I thought not. Hiring (Oscar winner) Louise from St. Louis. Of course she’d have to have a beau back home. There are hardly any black men in New York City for her to meet.Â Thatâ€™s been established in all those seasons of the television show.Â And giving her the goodbye purse to end all Christmas gifts. LouisÂ Vuitton or not, that thing is hideous. A classic of its kind. Kudos toÂ Ms. Field for topping herself. (How many middle aged women sit on a bedÂ and watch their friend model bad dresses from the eighties, gigglingÂ like adolescents? Uh. None? Yep. Thatâ€™s right. Oh, wait. Four.)Â lanning a wedding, jilted at the altar (or check-outÂ desk as the case may be), drowning sorrows in a picturesque settingÂ surrounded by friends, recovering just in time for another rescue. Itâ€™sÂ the same old story, but Carrie doesnâ€™t earn any of it. She didnâ€™t causeÂ any of it, and she doesnâ€™t fix the misunderstanding. She just fallsÂ into marriage wearing her sensible vintage suit, no bird on her headÂ this time, just devils IN her head.
Can what passes for witty repartee in the newÂ milennium hold a candle to the sparkling dialogue (ghosted by literaryÂ giant F. Scott Fitzgerald) of Claire Boothe Luceâ€™s 1939 classic The Women? Short answer: Not a chance. Someone’s Writers Guild membership (I’m not naming names) should be hanging byÂ a thread for a joke so terrible about Poughkeepsie, Prada, and pudding. NotÂ quite a punchline. But so telegraphed, so planted, so piddling.Â Poop-your-pants-bad joke. The only thing worse than the joke isÂ Charlotteâ€™s overacting facial expression. And Carrie’s over-the-topÂ laughter- olves-everything reaction. Can the pain of rejection really be cured by Montezuma taking revenge on a prissy control freak friend? I thought not.
Here’sÂ the thing. The moments captured of Norma Shearerâ€™s relationship withÂ her beloved daughter had more warmth and reality than all two hours of SATC.Â More felt life. More to aspire to. Fighting for her man, her intactÂ family, sacrificing for her daughter, risking her dignity instead ofÂ saving face. Thatâ€™s a heroine. And genuinely funny dialogue that’sÂ lasted almost seventy years, still fresh, still relevant, stillÂ brilliant. That’s heroic.
Maybe it’s just me. One of theÂ main reasons I go to the movies and read books…I’m looking for clues.Â I’m living my life and looking for answers, for characters in similarÂ circumstance. I check out the decisions they make and try them on forÂ size. I look for wit and wisdom and consequence, for the observation ofÂ recognizable human behavior, foibles and strength. Fiction provides forÂ me a sort of metaphysical fitting room. That’s why I’m not usuallyÂ intrigued with car chases and CGI monsters and explosions. My world isÂ small stakes. I’m a parent. A daughter. A sister. A friend. A wife. AÂ writer.
For these reasons, I have to hand it to The Women.Â Perhaps my favorite moment in the film captures motherhood soÂ beautifully. Norma Shearer (Mary) and her daughter (Little Mary, actedÂ exquisitely by Virginia Weidler, that singular child actress who canâ€™tÂ play a false beat) are in bed, talking and sharing a moment of suchÂ truth and intimacy that it takes my breath away. As they talk, MaryÂ scratches her daughterâ€™s back. All the heightened dialogue andÂ rapidfire wit fade in the light of this moment of felt life. Just for the pitch-perfect performance and bona fide motherÂ daughter rhythms established by Norma Shearer and young VirginiaÂ Weidler, I’ll take The Women over SATC. (Another sterling VW performance that slaysÂ me can be seen in the equally brilliant Philadelphia Story.)
It worries me that women travel in packs of four,Â assigning themselves roles. I’m the Carrie, you’re the Samantha…areÂ these really archetypes worthy of our aspirations? I think not. Not byÂ a long shot. At least the bitchy selfish narcissistic small-minded women in The Women are supposed to be unlikable cats. Not role models like Carrie and her pussy posse.
As for depicting guys. No whiny guys. No unworthyÂ guys. No guys you donâ€™t want to see naked. No guys at all. I love men.Â Donâ€™t get me wrong. But I believe that no man is better than the wrongÂ men. I give it to The Women.
(I do dread the remake though. Theyâ€™ve been trying to do this again forÂ decades. Theyâ€™re never going to top this film. Why try? Oh yeah. Money.)
So. Let’s check the stats. The Women does children better. The Women does women better. The Women does men better. It’s a knockout. ‘Nuff said. I’m exhausted. I need some chocolate. And to rearrange my closet.