In a sense, The Women is the ultimate chick flick—men are discussed, chewed out, lauded, and lambasted, but the only one who makes an appearance is a tiny newborn boy. No other male actors appear onscreen at any time, not even as extras. And that's what constitutes this film's biggest departure from standard chick-flick fare; no charming male leads are around to romance the audience, and there's little of the fairy tale to be found. Each of the women lives in the strange-but-true world of uppercrust New York society—one where a session at Saks Fifth Avenue with Madonna's manicurist is simply something to do while waiting for your hair appointment—but like "real" people, they have strengths, failures, children, messes, and job problems, and only their friends to help sort it all out.

Meg Ryan and Annette Bening as best friends Mary and Sylvia

Meg Ryan and Annette Bening as best friends Mary and Sylvia

Sylvia (Annette Bening) is a high-flying magazine editor in Manhattan. Mary (Meg Ryan), her best friend, is married to a prominent Wall Street executive, designs clothes for her father's company, and lives in Connecticut with her family, a wisecracking housekeeper, and the Danish nanny. Edie (Debra Messing), of a flightier disposition, has four children and one on the way, and Jada Pinkett Smith is a vaguely misanthropic nocturnal essayist with a nasty supermodel for a girlfriend.

When they discover that Mary's husband is having an affair with Crystal (Eva Mendes)—a seductive perfume "spray-girl" at Saks Fifth Avenue whom he met when buying a gift for Mary—the marriage disintegrates. And when Mary is betrayed by a friend, her life spirals into depression. She is too wrapped up in her troubles to be present with her pre-teen daughter, who turns elsewhere for comfort and acceptance. It is only while on a retreat in the woods that Mary recognizes the direction her life has taken, and resolves to change it for the better—with a little help from her friends.

Eva Mendes as 'spray girl' Crystal

Eva Mendes as 'spray girl' Crystal

Most of the dialogue is fast-paced and chuckle-inducing, with a wink to the story's past incarnations, though it grows stilted in several scenes of advice-giving. The Women is based on a celebrated 1939 film (eliciting the heartiest audience laugh when Meg Ryan sputters at her mother, "What do you think this is? A movie from the 1930s?"), which was in turn based on a play by Claire Boothe Luce. (All three versions employ the all-female casting.) The original starred a bevy of well-known actresses, including Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Rosalind Russell, and this one has a similar proliferation of today's female talent, though the perky talkiness of the remake seems a little out of place in today's cinema. And let's not forget the wardrobe—an essential component of this kind of film—which, mercifully, holds up even in this post-Sex and the City world.

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There are a lot of good lessons to be learned from The Women: Fight for your relationships. Don't betray your friends to get ahead. Pay attention to your children. People are more important than jobs. The central theme, somewhat unimaginatively, is the now well-worn adage to be true to yourself.

Smith, Bening, Ryan, Messing … and nary a man in the picture

Smith, Bening, Ryan, Messing … and nary a man in the picture

But these lessons can be troubling, too. Though Mary stridently denies any culpability in her husband's actions, it is clear that she has been too wrapped up in her own pursuits to sufficiently notice both her husband and her daughter. She's immersed herself in doing it al—being a mom, a wife, a chef, a designer, a gardener, a socialite, and a fixture on the charity circuit. So when she tells Leah (the inimitable Bette Midler) that she has only ever done work for everyone else, it rings a little hollow. After all, her pre-teen daughter feels so neglected by her mother that she adopts Sylvia as her confidante and refuses to talk to Mary. Everyone can see that her husband doesn't even like Crystal, but stays with her to feel needed. Mary works hard for everyone to please herself, and though it in no way justifies her husband's actions, the clear statement is that Mary would have been a better wife, mother, and friend, if she'd only pursued her own interests more fully.

And this is at the root of what bothered me about The Women. On the one hand, it is undeniably important for women, as well as men, to recognize and pursue those things which they are good at, and to find a mate who respects their natural talents and gifts. On the other hand, as women throughout the world will attest, when one becomes a wife or mother, she commits to a life of unselfish giving to her husband and children. Someone like Mary, who "finds herself" only by pursuing her own interests, might find a future relationship disappointing and become bitter. While The Women provides an evening of laughter and some points to ponder, it's important to recognize that relationships work only when all involved are willing to sacrifice for one another.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Leah advises Mary to be "selfish" by asking herself, "What do I want to do"? What do you think of her advice?
  2. When tragedy strikes in your life, to whom do you turn? Your friends? Your family? Yourself? What does Psalm 46 have to say about this?
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  1. The friendships portrayed in the film are tested by betrayal and falsehood, yet they endure and learn to forgive one another. What can we learn from their friendships about patience and forgiveness?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The Women is rated PG-13 for sex-related material, language, some drug use and brief smoking. The sex-related material consists mostly of innuendo and conversation. Jada Pinkett Smith's character is homosexual, and chooses a lesbian bar for the women to meet in for dinner. A confrontation between Mary and Crystal occurs while both are skimpily attired in the dressing room of a lingerie store. Leah and Mary smoke a joint.

What other Christian critics are saying:
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  2. Crosswalk
  3. Catholic News Service
  4. Past the Popcorn

The Women
Our Rating
2 Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
PG-13 (for sex-related material, language, some drug use and brief smoking)
Directed By
Diane English
Run Time
1 hour 54 minutes
Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes, Annette Bening
Theatre Release
September 12, 2008 by Picturehouse
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