June 11, 2008

Why the remake of "The Women" is an abomination to cinema

Today I saw a trailer for the 2008 remake of The Women, based on the 1939 original.

(trailers for the original and the remake )

I am not happy.

I had a sneaking suspicion that the remake would be awful, but the trailer confirmed my worst fears. It is not just going to be awful, it is going to be pure blasphemy.

(I should note here that I am not opposed to the concept of remakes in general. Some of cinema's beloved classics are actually remakes [like The Maltese Falcon] and sometimes an original and its remake are both good/famous and can happily coexist [the two versions of Scarface - 1932 and 1983]).

The basic plot is that a bunch of women backstab each other and steal each other's men, ascending and descending the social ladder in the process. Isn't that kind of a ludicrous premise to translate to the modern day - that your social status and your worth as a woman depend on who you are married to? Aren't we past this?

Let's take a look at what we're getting in the original as opposed to the remake.

- Director: The director of the original was Oscar-winning George Cukor, lovingly referred to as one of the "queens of Hollywood" due to his homosexuality. Working with the most respected stars of the day (largely female), he directed such classics as Dinner at Eight (1933), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Gaslight (1944) and Adam's Rib (1949), winning an Oscar for My Fair Lady in 1964. He directed five actors in Oscar-winning performances, and is largely considered one of the best directors of all time.

And the remake?

Directed by Diane English, who has never directed anything before and is known for writing for the TV show "Murphy Brown." Oh, but let's not forget that she served as a production accountant on a few Nickelodeon shows in the 90s.

- Writer: The source material of both films is the same: a play by Clare Booth Luce. The screenplay for the original, however, was written by Anita Loos, who was one of early cinema's foremost screenwriters. She had a long working relationship with D.W. Griffith, and also wrote the novel that became Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953).

And the remake?

Written by Diane English. See above.

- Role of Mary Haines: In the original, the main role was given to Norma Shearer, then known as "the first lady of MGM." She dominated this studio in the 30s, being nominated for six Oscars and winning one for The Divorcee (1930). She also starred as Juliet Capulet and Marie Antoinette, and was offered the role of Scarlett O'Hara.

And the remake?

Mary Haines is played by Meg Ryan. Yeah, Meg, you were cute in When Harry Met Sally (1989), and you might even be talented, but you're mired too deep in the romantic comedy ghetto for anyone to know.

- Role of Sylvia Fowler: In the original, Mrs. Fowler was deliciously portrayed by the inimitable Rosalind Russell, who was nominated for four Oscars and memorialized such characters as Hildy in His Girl Friday (1940), Mama Rose in Gypsy (1962), and Auntie Mame in the movie of the same name.

And the remake?

Sylvia Fowler is being played by Annette Bening. I actually don't have too much of a problem with this, although she's gonna have to play really bitchy, and not just that uptight and surprised thing she usually does.

- Role of Crystal Allen: In the original, this juicy part went to the ultimate screen bitch: Joan Crawford. She won an Oscar for her role as the titular character in 1945's Mildred Pierce, and was another of MGM's top stars, appearing in other classics such as Grand Hotel (1932) and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Mostly, she was known for her larger-than-life personality.

And the remake?

This role goes to Eva Mendes. Probably most known for her role in Hitch (2005), her primary claim to fame is being hot.

- Role of Miriam Aarons: In the original, this role was played with sass and wit by Paulette Goddard. Starting out in the Ziegfeld Follies as a young girl, she later married Charlie Chaplin and starred in two of his most famous films: Modern Times (1936) and The Great Dictator (1940). She was nominated for an Oscar for 1943's So Proudly We Hail!

And the remake?

This role is being played by Jada Pinkett-Smith. Yeah, she was pretty good in Collateral (2004), but her role in this movie, judging from the trailer, looks restricted to speaking in hilarious ebonics for the amusement of her white friends.

I'm confused about the other characters, because the names are changed, so I can't make a side-by-side comparison.

Anyway, watch the trailers. The remake just looks decidedly unfunny and bland. The original - the trailer of which is crippled somewhat by its old-timey style of including major plot points instead of funny parts - is a witty, bitchy classic that everyone should watch before this new piece of crap storms theaters.


Scott Nye said...

Eva Mendes is best known to me as being the first naked woman I saw onscreen.

Maxine Fabian said...

So sad. I agree with your post, Misfortune Cookie.

So few great roles for women, this remake could have been great, with a few minor tweaks to reflect the current economic/political balance between men and women, but I fear it will not.

Why change things just for the sake of change: the manicurist is now a spritzer girl? Have they even gotten rid of Jungle Red??? The trite, overplayed "giving birth" scene. Is this some kind of new law that in movies about women we must always have a scene wear a pregnant woman's water breaks, followed by a rush down a hospital hallway and a theatrical birthing scream played basically for laughs?

Pointless, really.

The only bright note is the fact that all these women got acting work, visibility, and reasonable paycheques, and they may one day have the power and money to forward a really great movie for women actors.