THE FIRST WIVES CLUB *
Cynthia's tiny sequence is the only serious one and arguably the best in a movie botched by its comic-book treatment of a major subject.
In the first of a string of improbabilities, the Middlebury graduates, while so close to each other, have not met in ages, even though they all lived in New York City. It takes Cynthia's funeral services to reunite the surviving three , Keaton, Midler and Hawn. They are now 45 or 46. If you believe their official birthdates, the three actresses are nearing 51.
In another forced ploy (it's in the book) all of them were abandoned by their husbands for younger chicks. This is what had happened to Cynthia too. In additional inventions, all three women had helped their husbands attain wealth and status; all three men are creeps; all their new patooties are flawed. Sarah Jessica Parker is a dumb ,vulgar, uncultured bimbo ; Elizabeth Berkley ("Showgirls") is a naive aspiring actress, who much later turns out to be only 16 ; Marcia Gay Harden, is a shrink who breaks ethics monstrously as, in another outlandish arrangement, she is both Keaton's therapist and the lover of Keaton's husband.
Keaton is in a trial separation. She hopes matters will improve after her husband has unexpected sex with her . . . and then announces that he wants a divorce. Hawn's ex has the cheek to ask her for alimony.
To this coarse, too-much-is-too-much mess are added, for no really valid reason, Midler's son and his Bar Mitzvah, and Keaton's daughter who proudly announces that she is lesbian. Neither embellishment helps the Jewish or the gay causes.
The ladies are seething. When each receives a letter from the grave (Cynthia's),the trio decide to exact revenge. In ways too unlikely to analyze, they succeed.
The actresses do what they can with their parts, but none of them is likable in a movie where nobody is. With the minor exceptions of friends recruited to help the wives: Maggie Smith as a sly "grande dame" and Bronson Pinchot, "one of the nine worst decorators in Manhattan" who also lends a hand. With the exception of tongue-in-cheek Smith, the acting ranges from broad to very broad, the latter fitting best Pinchot and Sarah Jessica Parker. There is not even token dimensionality to the three husbands, with Victor Garber (as Hawn's ex) being icomprehensively passive.
The film's subject is no joke but is treated as such yet there are few successful one-liners or gags --save for a funny scam sequence at Christie's auction house. While conceived as a farce, the film is not handled as a farce. Sluggish, dull, doing nothing for feminism, it limits it would-be message by limiting its arena to a moneyed milieu. In the wrap-up the ladies use their new wealth to open (in an artificial attempt to flatter female audiences) a women's crisis center. They throw a high society party which is like the opening of a ritzy restaurant or a fashion show. There's a dumb, cop-out reconciliation of one couple. The last scene has the three women doing an embarrassingly silly musical comedy song and dance number.
Director Hugh Wilson has made "Police Academy," (hmm), "Rustler's Rhapsody" (ugh), "Burglar" (ugh), "Guarding Tess" (good). Scripter Robert Harling wrote "Steel Magnolias" from his play, co-wrote the funny "Soapdish" and was one 7 writers on "Sister Act. "
If you want to see a delightful film about three women who revolt against male oppression, try the 1980 "9 to 5."