I'm pretty confused about female friendships after watching Jane Austen Book Club and The Women (1939) in the same day. Are my female friends horrified by my personal calamities or secretly thrilled by them? Are they the wind beneath my wings or the knife in my back? The classic 1939 film maintains that most women are a pack of gossiping, shrewish harpies whose main pleasure is to shop and send the bills to their husbands who are so busy having affairs with perfume counter girls that they don't notice another $250 nightgown (in 1939 money!) more or less. The 2007 film maintains that women become instantly bonded over the smallest triviality (a favorite author) and spend the rest of their lives bucking each other up with a steady diet of reading Jane Austen, wine-drinking and Ugg-wearing. That I have female friends that remind me of characters from both movies only adds to the confusion.
Here's the thing about these staggeringly different "chick flicks:" I really loved both of them because of all of the amazing ensemble acting. I'm a total sucker for ensemble acting. The Big Chill is one of my favorite movies of all time though I have little interest in the 1960s or the lives of self-obsessed yuppies who went to college in the sixties. Give me a movie where a bunch of actors get enough room to really create characters and even if their interactions are hopelessly contrived (as in both The Women and The Jane Austen Book Club) and I'm all over it.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Rosalind Russell in the Women is a revelation even for this Ros Russell fan. She's over the top loathsome and catty and though she was a gorgeous glamorous woman she was completely willing to lookunattractive in this film. The ingenious costuming always includes extra tall ugly hats and fussy ruffles is designed to make Russell looks as awkward as possible. Compare her to star Norma Shearer who was actually a little bit frumpy in this movie until the final scenes and to Joan Crawford who benefits from the femme fatale wardrobe she's given. Speaking of wardrobe, The Women has about 15 minutes of amazing filler in the form of a technicolor fashion show. These are some of the most hilriously odd clothes I've ever seen in my life. The recent remake of the film has the main character, Mary Haines, as a fashion designer. I like how the original film skewers the world of fashion, the absurdity, the expense and the snobbishness. And then of course it turns around and gives you fifteen minutes of clothing eye candy.
Emily Blunt in Jane Austen book Club is excellent as the tightly wound "time bomb" Prudie who has serious mommy issues and a thing for one of her high school students. She also has the most amazing clothes, which stand in stark contrast to the other "hippy handcraft" wearing members of the club.
Paulette Goddard stands out in a critical but small part in The Women. I love her advice to Mary Haines, "You forgot to lick her in the one place it counts. In his arms. And if I know men that's still Custer's last stand." And then she goes on to have the film's one genuine cat fight, with Rosalind Russell. Awesome.
Hugh Dancy plays the lone male member of the book club. He's a sci fi nerd who is attracted to one of the members and so ends up reading all of Jane Austen as well as the Mysteries of Udolpho just to get her attention. Stunt reading. Look ma, no cliff's notes. I love his take on "Mansfield Park," that it's a reverse Empire Strikes Back, because the brother and sister get together at the end.
It would take a much longer blog post than I really feeling like doing right now to go into depth about either of these movies. They are both vacuous, enjoyable and have a way of distracting and soothing the way a good chic flic should.
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