I was slightly apprehensive when I first heard that the 1939 classic The Women, one of my favourite films of all time, was being remade. My fear increased when I heard that taking the places of Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer and the wonderful Rosalind Russell would be Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan and Debra Messing. Yikes.
It’s not like I’m against remaking on principle – I think there are plenty of films that could be reinvented in interesting ways. Hell, His Girl Friday, another of my all-time faves, was a remake of The Front Page. But most remakes are lazy attempts to make something old “relevent” to a modern audience to whom anything more than five years old is apparently totally incomprehensible. Yes, some films date badly, but most of the ones that get remade (like, The Haunting, to give but one example) are often just as entertaining now (and in that case, just as scary) as they were when they were first made.
Of course, the original black and white version of The Women is a definitely a relic from another world, a place of dressmaker fittings and luxury trains and complicated Reno divorces. But that’s part of its charm. And while, in theory, my feminist heart should be repelled by the all-out bitchery and cat-fighting and men-obsession of the characters, the film is just so funny, and so OTT, and so wonderfully performed by its 100% female cast, that I can’t help it – I love it. It’s got a technicolour fashion show, for god’s sake! In which little monkeys appear dressed in miniature versions of the models’ outfits! (And no, my animal-loving self doesn’t approve of that, but still…) Also, Rosalind Russell, in the fashion show’s audience, knits all the way through it while wearing yet another crazy/fabulous hat. I love her. Russell plays Sylvia, a bitchy, beautiful society queen, but director George Cukor told Russell to “play her as a freak”, and there’s a sort of inner craziness in her performance that makes it blissfully funny; when she finally, inevitably, gets drawn into a full-blown cat fight, the expression on her face just before she bites her opponent’s legs is truly glorious. And then there’s Joan Crawford as the bitchy gold-digger, with her satin bathroom complete with ruched shower curtains. How can I resist?
But of course, the powers that be have decided that this nugget of pure cinematic gold isn’t good enough. Behold the trailer for the new version…
So yeah, if you’ve ever wondered “what would an updated version of a camptastic all-female film from the golden age of Hollywood be like?”, it turns out that the answer is “like a bad, predictable sitcom! Possibly Will and Grace, in fact”. Yeah, the film also features Candice Bergen and, for a millisecond in the trailer, the divine Miss M, and I was pleased to discover that Jada Pinkett Smith’s character is a lesbian (a welcome change from the usual tired chicklit and girlie TV position that gay people are adorable and perfect best friend material if they’re male and sexless, but scary and/or objects of sniggering derision if they’re female), but that’s not enough to make me want to sit through the whole three hours or however long it drags on for (why are even the most inconsequential films longer than the uncut Apocalypse Now these days?). It looks like a bunch of bland chicklit clichés filled with an even blander selection of outfits, without a technicolour monkey fashion show in sight. For shame!
And seriously, Eva Mendes instead of Joan freaking Crawford? Come on! What were they thinking? I think it’s pretty safe to say that La Mendes won’t be able to match Joan’s delivery of her final line – “There’s a word for you ladies, but it’s not used in polite society – outside a kennel.” And I also think that there’s little danger of this new version coming close to overtaking the original – and best.