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Women, TheThere is no small amount of irony that the man who wrote Under My Thumb and Some Girls, songs reviled by women’s groups everywhere, is one of the producers of a new female empowerment movie starring Annette Bening and Meg Ryan. Mick Jagger, perhaps atoning for past lyrical crimes against women, was one of the money men behind The Women, a loose adaptation of the Clare Booth Luce play and hit movie.

The names are the same from the 1939 film (which starred Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford in the roles now taken by Ryan, Bening and Eva Mendes) and the general idea is intact but the story of a wealthy woman who discovers her husband is having an affair with a Sak’s Fifth Avenue perfume counter attendant has been tweaked and brought forth into the twenty-first century. Gone are the Countesses and dude ranches of the original; in are lesbian characters (Jada Pinkett Smith), expensive clothes and one-liners geared to appeal to a female audience. There’s also been a philosophical shift. The original exposed society women as catty and shallow whereas the new girl power vision celebrates female friendship, eliminating most of the cattiness—although the odd slyly mean remark like “There’s a fine line between an outfit and a get-up…” slips through.

Now that studios have finally figured out that it’s not just teenage boys who pay to see movies, more and more films are being aimed at a female audience. Sex and the City and the The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, both recent movies that dealt with female bonding and friendship, were just the first shots across the bow. Apart from its female demographic The Women hits another, usually neglected, target audience: older women. This movie is aimed at the mothers of the teens and young women who flocked to see the Sisterhood sequel and the adventures of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte.

From its opening joke about marked down shoes the film is so unconcerned with a male audience it goes so far as to not include one single male character. There aren’t even any men in the crowd shots. Estrogen rules in every frame of the film.

Director and screenwriter Diane English (best known as the producer and writer of Murphy Brown) hasn’t exactly improved on the original, but she does keep things going at a sitcom-like pace, peppering the action with so many jokes—only about half of which actually land—that the whole thing could best be described as amiable rather than good.

The main cast—most veterans of light comedy—are as amiable as the script. High points include Candice Bergen, who continues her run as the summer’s reigning cameo queen, and her effortless way with a one liner. As in Sex and the City she has The Women’s best line with, “Such a bad facelift… She looks like she’s reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.” Also delightful is Cloris Leachman as the crotchety house keeper prone to admonishing her boss with sayings like, “Keep your Wonder Bra on…” While the dialogue isn’t exactly as elegantly snappy as Luce’s words, these two old pros deliver their zingers effortlessly.

The Women doesn’t have the naughty edge of Sex and the City or the youthful exuberance of the Sisterhood movies, but it shares common ground with those pictures in its heartwarming message of friendship and empowerment.

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