- Writer-director Diane English’s long-in-the-works, feminist-oriented The Women remake was a critical and commercial dud upon its 2008 release despite an all-star cast that includes Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Candice Bergen, Bette Midler, Carrie Fisher, Debra Messing, and Cloris Leachman. Why did that happen?
Diane English’s lambasted 2008 The Women remake replaced original’s ‘mean-spirited’ humor with ‘feminist’ sensibilities
March 2019 update/sequel to the preceding post (see above): As found in the 2004 Variety article announcing writer-director Diane English’s planned early 21st-century The Women remake, the Murphy Brown creator disparaged Clare Boothe Luce’s 1936 Broadway hit as “funny but very mean-spirited. It was Luce’s attack on her gender.”
English went on to say that “the catalyst of the story [in the new version] is still one of the women discovering her husband is having an affair, and the reaction of her friends. Unless I screw it up, there’s a built-in audience for this movie.” And perhaps there would have been, had the – indispensable – “mean-spiritedness” of the original remained in place.
Released by Picturehouse four years after the Variety interview – after being, in various forms, nearly 14 years in the works – English’s $16.5 million-budget all-female The Women remake, starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, and Eva Mendes, strives to offer a sunnier depiction of woman-to-woman relationships.
This “sisterhood celebration” approach, supposed to have made the storyline more palatable to modern audiences, proved to be a critical disaster – and a commercial letdown, notwithstanding parent company Warner Bros.’ decision to expand The Women’s launch to 2,962 locations while increasing its marketing budget from $7–$8 million to $25–$30 million.
Widely panned feminist slant
When the 2008 The Women remake came out, Diane English told Erica Abeel at ifc.com:
“If you’re writing a bitchfest, the humor comes very easy and quickly. The challenge here was to shift the attitude from ‘we’re stabbing each other in the back’ to ‘we’re supporting each other.’ But at the same time, I tried to maintain the level of humor and wit and dialogue and pacing of the old movie.”
Most U.S. critics felt English’s mix of old and new sensibilities – plus some heavy-duty feminist lecturing – failed to gel. Kenneth Turan, for one, wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
“In The Women, suburban wife and mother Mary Haines comes to see the error of trying to be all things to all people. It’s too bad that the film she’s in didn’t learn the same lesson and instead tries way too hard [to] be everything for all women.”
Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News:
“Is it an exaggeration to call The Women the worst movie of the year? Well, yeah, probably. But it may be the most disappointing, given all the effort that went into it.”
Keith Phipps at The A.V. Club:
The original was a tart dipped in acid; this one’s a biscuit sprinkled in Splenda.
Mary Elizabeth Williams at Salon:
“You go, girls. Preferably as far away as possible.”
Anemic box office
In relative terms, The Women 2008 received a warmer reception from audiences than from critics, though not nearly warm enough: $26.9 million in the U.S. and Canada, plus $23.1 million internationally.
The $50 million total might have been enough for the low-budget comedy to break even (after exhibitors got their share), but only if its distribution and marketing expenses had remained in the $7–$8 million range.
‘Remake That Shouldn’t Have Been Made’
As expected, Diane English’s The Women remake was completely bypassed in every major – and, for that matter, minor – 2008–09 awards season categories.
In a particularly disconcerting case of “adding insult to injury,” the female-focused comedy was the Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ top pick for “Remake That Shouldn’t Have Been Made” and – tied with another female-focused and -directed release, Phyllida Lloyd’s Mamma Mia! – “Movie You Wanted to Love, But Just Couldn’t.”
The Women 2008 was also the Women Film Critics Circle Awards’ Hall of Shame choice, getting dismissed as “Sex, Lies and Shopping, as filthy rich leisure class females lament their personal woes as victims, not so much of men, but working class women.”
Lastly, Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, and Jada Pinkett Smith were all shortlisted (as an ensemble) in the Razzie Awards’ Worst Actress category. They lost to Paris Hilton for The Hottie & the Nottie.
The Women 2008 cast
Contrary to the initial The Women remake announcement (see previous post), Meg Ryan – not Annette Bening – stars as Mary Haines, the betrayed wife played by Norma Shearer in George Cukor’s 1939 original and by June Allyson in David Miller’s 1956 remake The Opposite Sex. The key difference in the 2008 movie is that Ryan’s Mary finds her inner call once her marriage falls apart.
Bening, by then a three-time Academy Award nominee, and Eva Mendes (replacing Uma Thurman) were cast as, respectively, Mary Haines’ (flawed) best friend/fashion magazine editor Sylvie Fowler and Haines’ husband-borrowing rival/Saks perfume salesgirl Crystal Allen, roles previously – and more effectively – played on screen by Rosalind Russell (as the backstabbing busybody Sylvia, with an “a”) and Joan Crawford in 1939, and by Dolores Gray/Ann Sheridan (Bening’s gossipy, husband-less career woman is a mix of the two) and Joan Collins in The Opposite Sex.
Here’s a little more information about the supporting cast members found in the 2008 The Women remake:
- Murphy Brown star and Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Candice Bergen (Starting Over, 1979) as Meg Ryan’s mother. Coincidentally, Bergen also mothered Ryan in the 1981 comedy-drama Rich and Famous, Ryan’s feature film debut and the last movie directed by the original The Women’s George Cukor.
- Two-time Best Actress Oscar nominee Bette Midler (The Rose, 1979; For the Boys, 1991) as a pot-smoking, flamboyant-but-pragmatic Hollywood agent nicknamed “The Countess” – supposedly inspired by 1970s powerhouse agent Sue Mengers and a radical departure from Mary Boland’s harebrained, l’amour-prone Countess De Lave in the 1939 version. (Also coincidentally, Midler would star as Mengers in the 2013 one-woman Broadway show I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers.)
- Star Wars franchise actress Carrie Fisher, whose cameo is a revamped take on Hedda Hopper’s and Barbara Jo Allen’s gossip columnists in the 1939/1956 movies.
- TV and sometime film actress Debra Messing (Will & Grace) as a perennially baby-popping housewife eager to have a boy – à la Joan Blondell in The Opposite Sex.
- Jada Pinkett Smith (The Matrix Reloaded) as a cynical lesbian writer with the manly moniker Alex Fisher.
- Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show, 1971) as Mary Haines’ housekeeper, effortlessly stealing every scene she’s in.
- Also in the cast: Debi Mazar as a gossipy manicurist, India Ennenga as Mary Haines’ daughter, and Joanna Gleason as one of Mary’s foodie friends: “You cooked? Oh, Mary, how could you. What were you thinking? Now we’ll all have to do that.”
Check out Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, et al. in the 2008 The Women remake trailer below.
The Women remake that might have been
The Women remake cast members that failed to materialize include Lisa Kudrow and Anne Hathaway, both of whom had been named in connection with Diane English’s project, in the roles originally played on screen by Paulette Goddard (tough, ambitious chorus girl) and Joan Fontaine (naive, pregnant divorcée-to-be). These two characters were eventually dropped from the reboot, though Jada Pinkett Smith’s butch Alex Fisher has elements in common with Goddard’s businesslike chorine.
Among the other actresses at some point or other mentioned as potential casting choices were Sandra Bullock (announced in 2004 as Ryan’s and Bening’s co-star), Holly Hunter, Marisa Tomei, Whitney Houston, and Blythe Danner.
As for the 2008 The Women’s male actors, there appears to be only one: the baby seen at the end is reportedly a boy. Additionally, as per one report, viewers can also spot a male extra playing a waiter at a café.
‘The Women Remake’ notes
Sex and the City distribution boost
However, the original “indie” setup fell into disarray as a consequence of Warner Bros.’ absorption of New Line while The Women was in production.
Suddenly relegated to the sidelines at the now Warners-owned distribution entity, The Women was seen with renewed interest following the commercial success of another female-centered 2008 release, New Line’s big-screen version of the TV hit Sex and the City.
The Women remake vs. 1939 original & The Opposite Sex box office
 Based on the National Association of Theater Owners and the Motion Picture Association of America’s estimates (via Boxofficemojo.com) of average annual domestic movie ticket prices (not directly correlated to the Consumer Price Index), George Cukor’s 1939 The Women, which earned Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer $1.6 million in rentals in the U.S. and Canada, would have brought in approximately $63 million in the domestic market if released in 2019.
Its actual domestic box office gross, if in line with reports for movies of the last half century or so – and that’s a not insignificant if – would have been close to twice that amount, or about $115–$125 million.
In accordance with the same method, The Opposite Sex ($1.7 million in rentals), would have earned MGM about $30 million in 2019; gross: $55–$60 million.
Picturehouse’s 2008 The Women remake (domestic gross: $26.9 million) would have raked in around $34 million in 2019 – or quite a bit less than either of its predecessors.
Now, even though they’re a more accurate reflection of a film’s popularity (i.e., its number of tickets sold), inflation-adjusted estimates should be taken with extreme caution; for instance, they’re based on average ticket prices whereas numerous major releases scored a large chunk of their grosses at top-priced theaters.
Lastly, keep in mind that it would be pointless to compare inflation-adjusted box office figures to inflation-adjusted (by way of the Consumer Price Index) budget figures.
Annette Bening Oscar nominations
 As mentioned in the previous The Women post, a couple of years after the 2008 The Women remake came out, Annette Bening garnered her third Best Actress Oscar nod (fourth overall), for The Kids Are All Right (2010).
Annette Bening and Meg Ryan 2008 The Women remake images: Picturehouse / Warner Bros.
“The Women Remake: Critics Deride + Audiences Indifferent to All-Star, All-Female Feminist Comedy” last updated in December 2019.