Chacun à son goût: The Women vs. The Women

I just watched the 2008 remake of Cukor’s The Women again. One of the nice things about this movie is that they’re not all supermodels. I can identify with some of them—they’re ordinary-looking, with faces that tell you more about their character than about their makeup choices.

the buck starts here

the buck starts here

Both versions of The Women are remarkable because every single member of the cast is female. Not just the principals, not just the bit players, but the extras, the crowds in the crowd scenes, the clerks in the stores and the waitresses in the restaurants, the random soul in the elevator, the random bodies in the gym.

It’s extraordinary. You have a chance to think about what you think of each character. You notice how human they all are. It takes longer to watch the movie, somehow. You just…take your thumb off the fast-forward button.

English's friends fight for Mary

English’s friends fight for Mary

<I just remembered that I own Cukor’s The Women!>

Someone said, “It’s really all about the men” and they were right. From the spa in the first sequence to Norma Shearer in that final shot, stretching out her hands, floating toward her (off-camera) husband with an expression of trembly joy…yeah, it was about the men.

Diane English’s remake is about the friends. It’s still about stinking rich women of New York, all status and jewelry and servants and leisured lives and glamorous jobs. Theirs is not a world I relate to—it’s like an Olivia Goldsmith novel come to the screen. But the story grabs me and English’s characters appeal to me.

If Stephen doesn’t like something I’m wearing, I take it off.

<scurrying off to IMDB for information>

Boy, I just read the reviews on IMDB.com. Lot of haters there. Every one of the reviews I read prefers the old to the new version. They’re all so angry about the new one.

<Now I have to watch the Cukor version!>

I’m watching the Cukor version now. Funny, I remembered liking it. But this time through I find it really unpleasant, overacted, and overwritten. The women are despicable and the comedy is cruel slapstick. It’s as if someone who didn’t like women hired some really good actresses to play drag queens who are playing unpleasant women. You walk out saying, “Aren’t women awful!” in a pleased sort of way.

enjoying Mary's disaster

enjoying Mary’s disaster

Whereas the new movie is for women. I don’t feel icky after I’ve watched it.

Oh well, chacun à son goût.

Tell me which one you prefer and why.

*PS, do you recognize Carrie Fisher in the 2008 remake? I didn’t either. Notice that she’s made up to look like Death, and her manner is as serpentine as if she were offering Annette Bening an apple.

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Chacun à son goût: The Women vs. The Women — 12 Comments

  1. I’ve seen Cukor’s “The Women,” but years ago, and recall nothing about it, other than it was populated with what they were designated back in the 80’s, women who shop.

    The women’s film I do recall from that same era is “Orchestra Wives.” (1942), a swing era musical, featuring the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Having been one, and knowing many a band leader’s wife, I found that one of great interest.

  2. I saw this on stage in New York City with an all-star cast. At the time I remember being struck by how it is indeed all about the men. They are the assets or the source of assets, and the women joust for access. There is no idea that the women could themselves produce value. All the women were purely parasitical.

      • Well, as I recall the women talk about their relationships with each other. But all the assets and value are held by the men. I need Bob to buy me stuff, keep me in the split-level in Cos Cob, etc. I am fighting with Susie over there because if she takes Bob away I will be destitute. Bob doesn’t come up — we spend our time denigrating each others’ fashion sense — but he is driving our conflict.

  3. Nancy Jane, no, the Booth original (Cukor original) doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. But the new one does.

    Brenda, yup, that’s about it. The man with money was the big fat invisible elephant in the room.

    • Yes. And there was no sense, not even a distant reverberation of a possibility, that there could be a woman with money. That you could go and earn yourself a shitload of cash and then be the big fat elephant yourself, able to take or leave that man for reasons totally separate from the size of his wallet. One and all, the women in THE WOMEN were dependent. It is a drama about the residents of the seraglio fighting about access to the Sultan — stuffy, limited, claustrophobic.

      That’s where I think a modern version would be very different indeed. (Insert here standard line about how they need to insert my daughter into this. A nice girl with an M-16 rifle…)

      • Brenda, you should write that version. I would read it in a heartbeat.

        One of the reasons I’m glad I was not born in an earlier age is that I had the choice to be an independent woman, supporting myself. Which is why I could never watch these movies. Stuff like that makes me want to throw things. Hell, even Jane Austen makes me want to throw things, not because she’s not a brilliant writer, but because I just cringe at the limits on her characters’ lives.

      • Now I’m thinking that out to myself. Does the Brenda version have an all-liberated cast of characters? Or do we send her nice girl with an M-16 into what amounts to Cukor’s story, and let her make chaos?

  4. I’ve seen the original, and the fifties remake, but I haven’t seen the new one. I’ll have to request it through Netflix. The “take it off” version had real pizazz in the thirties version. I wonder how audiences reacted?