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First Wives Club

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: First Wives Club

Starring: Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn
Director: Hugh Wilson
Rated: PG
RunTime: 102 Minutes
Release Date: September 1996
Genre: Comedy

Review by MrBrown
2 stars out of 4

Walking out of the big press screening for The First Wives Club, I couldn't help but feel as if I missed something. While the bulk of the audience, which had been laughing heartily during the film, left the theatre all aglow with laughter and smiles, I left thinking it wasn't anything remotely special, a light comedy that at best had its moments and at worst was trite, labored, and much too nice.

Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton are ceaselessly energetic as three pushing-50 lifelong friends whose husbands who left them for younger women. Film producer Bill (Victor Garber) left aging, vain starlet Elise (Hawn) for an untalented ingenue (Elizabeth Berkley--'nuff said); electronics salesman Morty (Dan Hedaya) left the brash, zaftig Brenda (Midler) for sassy, svelte Shelly (a perfectly catty Sarah Jessica Parker); and ad exec Aaron (Stephen Collins) ditched the whiny, wimpy Annie (Keaton) for her psychotherapist, Leslie (Marcia Gay Harden). After an old friend (Stockard Channing) kills herself after her hubby (James Naughton) leaves her for a young trophy wife (Heather Locklear, wasted in a wordless cameo), the three form the First Wives Club, determined to exact painful revenge on their exes.

Problem is, the revenge isn't painful enough. For a feminist revenge fantasy, The First Wives Club is much too nice; the script by Robert Harling (based on Olivia Goldsmith's novel) doesn't have enough of a venomous edge: the trio's revenge antics aren't that nasty, and there aren't nearly enough acid one-liners--something is wrong if the best insults are those the three women direct toward each other, not the men. What makes this a greater shame is that the three stars are in peak form, obviously enjoying working with each other, having a ball. Hawn takes top acting honors, so very funny and convincing as a poster girl for plastic surgery; Keaton next, hilariously playing Annie's neuroses to the hilt; then Midler, who is no comic slouch but just has less of a character to work with than her co-stars.

There are some funny moments to be had, such as a couple of good one-liners and slapstick gags here and there, but for every one of those, there are a handful that don't quite work. An interlude at a lesbian bar is ripe with comic potential, but so little time is spent there that it does not pay off as well as it could have. One of the more crowd-pleasing sequences has the trio riding an out-of-control window-washing scaffold, but the rhythm of the scene is interrupted by a gratuitous, forced bit where a couple in bed recognizes Elise through the window and compliments her appearance. Director Hugh Wilson also attempts to add some seriousness to the proceedings, throwing in moments where the music grows more somber and the audience is cued to "feel" for the lead characters; these moments are at odds with the majority of the film, which often asks the viewer to not just laugh with, but at, the over-the-top heroines.

It would not surprise me if The First Wives Club became a word-of-mouth hit with women, especially older ones; the feminist message, the three stars, and the outrageous comedy will probably be enough. But for this (yes, male) viewer, it wasn't quite enough.

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