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
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