At first, the high concept of 'The Women' seems entirely gratuitous. A film about women, and starring a cast entirely of women (there's not a single male in sight, not even a background extra), all bitching about how crappy men are. Yet, as proven by the far superior 1939 original (of the same title), the conceit eventually proves genius. The thematic point seems to be that all the men in 'The Women,' despite being invisible invisible, permeate every moment, every thought, every line in the heads of otherwise liberated women. The film's basic scenario is thus, in itself, a wry commentary on the omnipresence of the male gaze in modern society, and how, three decades on from the rise of feminism, we still live under the thumb of patriarchy.
Unfortunately, the 2008 version of 'The Women' offers little beyond its fascinating idea. The story is more or less similar to the original, only updated with new millennium post-modern surface flourishes. Meg Ryan is the ostensible lead, starring as Mary Haines, who's married to the off-screen Steve, who, she discovers, is having an affair with the ruthless man-stealer Eva Mendes. But rather than be devastated by the discovery, Mary enlists all of her friends in her revenge cause, including the acidic Sylvia (Annette Bening), goofy Edie (Debra Messing, still trying to channel Lucille Ball) and sassy Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith, playing the token black and lesbian character all in one). Helping Mary deal with her pending loss, the girls re-examine their own attitudes towards their lives, each other, and their relationships.
What's particularly amazing about 'The Women's flatness is that it took so long to develop. Writer-Director Diane English spent over a decade getting the film made, yet it feels slapdash. It's not just that English's direction is pedestrian and lacking visual spark. The script, which crackled and popped with such wit in the original, here substitutes sitcom-level writing, the ham-fisted use of songs on the soundtrack as a substitute for depth, and the dullest of pop culture references. One need only look at 'Sex and the City' to see the same formula, but done with panache. 'The Women's few attempts at freshness, such as the opening shopping montage where cutesy graphics appear a la 'Fight Club,' only seem desperate. 'The Women' is so weakly realized it might as well be a filmed stage play, and a bad one at that.
'The Women's much-touted, big-name cast of female stars is a crushing disappointment. Nearly everyone is simply doing a variation on their patented shtick. Ryan looks cute, pouts a lot, and generally regurgitates the lovelorn Sally routine from 'When Harry Met Sally.' Bening -- who I normally admire -- is an even more shrill and unpleasant cross between her 'Running with Scissors' and 'American Beauty' characters. Messing, Mendes and Pinkett also fail to register, with the latter suffering from one of the most unbelievable and poorly-written "lesbian" characters seen in a movie as of late. Only brief supporting turns by Debi Mazar and Bette Midler brighten things up comedically -- too bad they rate as cameos.
Ultimately, 'The Women' feels like a marketing hook instead of a living, breathing flesh-and-blood story. "Hey!", you can almost hear the studio execs exclaim. "Let's remake 'The Women,' and make a movie with no men and lots of big female stars in it. It'll be the perfect date movie!" Unfortunately, no one thought to give any of the women in 'The Women' anything interesting to do, or think about, other than how lonely and miserable they are without men. For a movie with not a single Y chromosome to be found, its characters aren't just preoccupied with the male species, but let themselves be defined by them completely. Against all odds, 'The Women' never scratches the surface, and has absolutely nothing new to say about romance, modern relationships, and femininity. It's one big, vaguely pretty-looking vacuum.
New Line/Warner provide a 1080p/VC-1 encode (at 1.85:1) for 'The Women.' The image is far blander than I expected. Compared to far more colorful girls of the recent 'Sex and the City' Blu-ray, 'The Women' come up quite short.
Right away, the transfer looks kinda ugly. Blacks are not as rich and deep as they should be, and contrast is way too bright (particularly in the mid-range). The transfer has an ugly, flat look that does little to make its beautiful cast of women look good. Colors are far from vibrant, too, with even primaries lacking punch. Fleshtones look artificial. Visible detail is pretty good, but the transfer lacks any appreciable depth. There's also a fair bit of noise evident, though no major compression artifacts. At least the presentation is sharp throughout. But 'The Women' looks far worse than I anticipated.
Boy, the studio sure hasn't put much effort into presenting 'The Women' on Blu-ray with any pizzazz. All we get is a lowly English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track (640kbps). Granted, the film is nothing special in terms of sound design, but still...
The mix is largely front-heavy. Surrounds might as well be turned off, with only a slight whiff of score bleed and ambient sounds. There is nothing special to report in terms of dynamics, with adequate low bass considering the material and a clean-enough source. Dialogue is the main show here, and it sounds fine, though even here nothing stands out at all about the mix. 'The Women' is as dull a soundtrack as you're likely to hear on a new release Blu-ray.
Adding to the general cheapness of this Blu-ray is a slim supplements package. This is glossy, pretty vapid stuff.
'The Women' is a disappointment. This long-in-development remake of the '30s distaff classic fails to update the material successfully for modern times. It's narratively adrift, and though populated with fine female talent, none of the characters are at all memorable. This Blu-ray is likewise substandard, with tossed-off video and audio and fluffy supplements. 'The Women' is a rental at best, and only then if you set your sights low.