With the star power available to director Hugh Wilson, you’d think he could come up with something a bit more intelligent than “The First Wives Club.”
Then again, star power may have been the problem.
For whenever stars get involved, expectations rise. And then, as if by magic, subtlety tends to disappear.
In their search for the widest audience possible, filmmakers flatten out complexities, transform performances into caricatures and substitute common-denominator messaging for plot.
What’s left often evokes laughter, but only for the moment. Twenty minutes later, it’s hard to remember who did what to whom, never mind why.
To be sure, “The First Wives Club” has many funny moments. But with a cast headed by Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler, you’d expect nothing less.
An adaptation of Olivia Goldsmith’s best-selling novel, “The First Wives Club” has all three stars struggling to deal with their former marriages.
Midler’s husband (Dan Hedaya), an appliance king, has deserted her for a much younger model (Sarah Jessica Parker).
Hawn, an Oscar-winning actress who is fighting the aging game (and losing, but not for trying), loses her producer husband also to a younger woman (Elizabeth Berkley of “Showgirls”).
And Keaton, the perennial doormat, suffers as her husband (Stephen Collins) works the notion of “separation” to his best advantage.
When the three former college roommates meet, for the first time in years, at the funeral of a mutual friend (Stockard Channing), they gradually come to a decision: They’re all mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. Or words to that effect.
Thus The First Wives Club is born. And vengeance is first up on the club agenda.
Wilson’s film doesn’t get much more complex than that. It essentially follows the same outline that the 1989 Roseanne vehicle “She-Devil” used: women forging a new life on the ashes of the men who mistreated them.
And as just this, a simple vehicle for feminist rage, “The First Wives Club” is effective.
The trouble is that the opportunity was here to say so much more.
For example, these women may resent the women who have replaced them, but they target their rage only at their husbands. Left untapped is the disputed ideal of sisterhood and the blatant truth of how selfishness undermines it.
In its simplicity, though, “The First Wives Club” makes good use of Keaton and Midler but especially Hawn - who is not afraid to make fun of her own image as a fading screen “beauty.”
All three glide on screenwriter Robert Harling’s biting dialogue.
Among the men, Collins is terrific as the obligatory commitment-phobic male, and Maggie Smith and Bronson Pinchot (the television star enjoying something of a big-screen comeback) are fun to watch.
But I particularly enjoyed Parker.
As a multitalented performer, comfortable on the Broadway stage and on film, Parker is the complete actress: funny, sexy and smart.
If only the film as a whole boasted more of her spunk.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “THE FIRST WIVES CLUB” **-1/2 Locations: East Sprague, Newport and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by Hugh Wilson (from the novel by Olivia Goldsmith), starring Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, Dan Hedaya, Sarah Jessica Parker, Stephen Collins, Bronson Pinchot and Maggie Smith Running time: 1:44 , Rating: PG
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