Retro Film Review: The First Wives Club (1996)

in #film2 months ago


One of the most noticeable (and most annoying) Hollywood trends in past decades is increasing orientation towards very limited market - teenagers or very young people. Older viewers simply have less and less films to watch on big screens; there are simply less and less themes and issues the older people could identify with. Even when some films directed towards older audience get made, that audience may not flock to the theatres. One of the rare examples to the contrary is The First Wives Club, 1996 comedy directed by Hugh Wilson.

The plot of the film, based on the novel by Olivia Goldsmith, begins in 1969 where four young female college graduate swear eternal friendship to each other. Many years later one of them, Cynthia Swan Griffin (played by Stockard Channing), commits suicide. Her funeral is opportunity for remaining three - Brenda Cushman (played by Bette Midler), Elise Atchison (played by Goldie Hawn) and Annie Paradis (played by Diane Keaton) – to finally re-unite and, while exchanging their life stories, discover that they share the very same problem that drove poor Cynthia to her death. It turns out that all their husbands either dumped them or are in the process of dumping them in order to women twenty years their junior. Feeling hurt and humiliated, three women decide to avenge themselves by making a clever plan to lead their ungrateful husbands to ruin and, instead of talking only half, deprive them of all their belongings.

The First Wives Club is based on the novel that made some interesting social observations of 1990s America, but its appeal would be rather limited. Those who are mostly likely to appreciate this film are women, especially women who approached certain age and who can relate to the problems of film's heroines. People who don't belong to that specific demographic would have some problems with this film, especially males who could, to paraphrase some "Playboy"-reading feminists, experience same feelings with The First Wives Club as Jews who read Mein Kampf. Basically, each and every member of male gender in this film is presented as waste of DNA, with a single exception of obligatory effeminate character played by Bronson Pinchot. What was supposed to be social satire turns into simplistic pseudo-feminist attack on the entire concept of heterosexuality (Annie's daughter, played by Jennie Dundas, proudly displays her lesbianism). All that could have provided material for delectably subversive comedy, but Robert Harding's script didn't use that potential. Instead, The First Wives Club degenerated into serious of cliches and painfully unfunny jokes that show how even such great comic talents like Midler, Hawn and Keaton can be wasted. Of course, entire issue of film - plight of upper-class 40+ divorcees - stinks of typical Hollywood hypocrisy in the decade when world had much worse problems. Its commercial success owed more to pandering to specific demographics than to its author's talent and quality of their work.

RATING: 2/10 (-)

(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup on September 24th 2003)


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