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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

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Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

Middle age actresses Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton get together for a fun romp. In an age where many actors brood on the set and look angry that they have to come out of the confines of their trailers, here we have some acting pros who have a blast hamming it up together. The result is not a great comedy, but a serviceable one that provides some nice laughs and easy to enjoy entertainment.

THE FIRST WIVES CLUB tells a story of woe from the perspectives of the injured first wives who have been dumped for younger models. Its motto can be summed up in the words of Ivana Trump, who shows up as herself and advises the first wives, "Ladies, you have to be strong and independent, and remember, don't get mad, get everything." Although some men may tire quickly of the constant male bashing, the characters are all such comedic stereotypes that I never minded.

Three friends from the college graduating class of 1969 (my class I should point out), Elise Elliot Atchison (Goldie Hawn), Brenda Morelli Cushman (Bette Midler), and Annie MacDuggan Paradis (Diane Keaton) learn that their friend and ex-student Cynthia Swann Griffin (Stockard Channing) has committed suicide because of her first husband. They are all shocked. As Elise puts it, "If only she'd called me. If only I was listed."

After the funeral they get together for a drunken luncheon where they share their sad tales of their first husbands and finish each others lines. Elise says that, "when men get to be a certain age," and Brenda concludes, "good-bye women, hello Pop Tarts."

Each of the characters is unique and yet strikingly similar. Elise is an Academy-Award winning actress with tons of makeup and monster sized lips. As her plastic surgeon Dr. Morris Packman (Rob Reiner) warns her about her request for another lip operation, "If I give you any more collagen, they'll look like they were stuck in a pool drain." Elise believes in her medical miracles and advises her friends that, "It's the 90s, plastic surgery is like good grooming." In case you haven't already guessed, every character in the show seems enormously wealthy.

Keaton, playing out of character for her, does a nice job as a whiny woman who can not express anger. A real wimp and with a bossy mother, Catherine (Eileen Heckart), to boot. When Annie tells her mother about her therapist, her mother informs her, "You are married. You have a daughter. You don't need self-esteem."

Although this is the three star's movie, the secondary cast has fun too. Sarah Jessica Parker plays Brenda's husband's, Morton (Dan Hedaya), sexy new girlfriend Shelly Stewart. Shelly's brain is in proportion to the rest of svelte figure. Brenda greets her with, "Look at you. My, my, the bulimia sure has paid off."

Director Hugh Wilson and writer Robert Harling (based on a novel by Olivia Goldsmith) combine witty dialog with a little physical humor. Too often broad comedies like this dissolve into slapstick. Here the humor is mainly in the lines which are the best part of the show.

The husbands are complete cads without an ounce of compassion. Annie's estranged husband Aaron (Stephen Collins) takes her to bed one last time before popping the question to her, "I want a divorce." Okay, so it's not exactly a question.

All of this is merely the setup. The movie is about a club they form to torment their ex's and take all of their money. Half is not enough for the misery inflicted on them by being dumped for someone "in preschool" as Brenda phrases it. The husbands don't fight back and only grumble. Elise's husband Bill (Victor Garber) screams at her with the epithet, "You vindictive sack of silicone!"

Most of the picture is about the antics of the club. The show tacks on a mildly serious ending that attempts to cast the show as having a message about spousal abuse. The ending has no place in a comedy and only dulls the comedy and insults the message. At the very last, the women start singing their theme song, "You don't own. Don't try to change me in anyway." This is one of the happiest musical numbers I have seen in the cinema in a long time. What fun these three had doing this film.

THE FIRST WIVES CLUB runs 1:42. It is just rated PG since there is no sex, nudity, violence, or bad language. Given the theme of the comedy a kid would probably have to be nine or so to appreciate it. Younger kids would also be in danger of taking the male bashing too seriously. I give the film a thumbs up and award it ** 1/2.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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