Feb 19, 2015

Review: The First Wives Club (1996)

It's funny how I just watched a movie recently about a couple of aging female characters struggling with their self-identity. The Banger Sisters was two days ago and that was my girlfriend's choice as is The First Wives Club. I think the typical way she goes about choosing movies is looking up actresses and then simply picking movies from the filmographies. Goldie Hawn is the common thread here which is funny because I don't think my girlfriend even likes her.

Anyway, I think everyone can agree that Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler is quite the grouping of female performers though. The First Wives Club ended up being a surprise success in 1996 and for a long time there's been talk of a sequel. Hawn tweeted in 2011 that she and her costars had signed on for a sequel but nothing's come of it and here we are four years later. It doesn't really look like we'll ever get that sequel.


Genre: comedy
Directed by: Hugh Wilson
Produced by: Scott Rudin, Adam Schroeder, Ezra Swerdlow, etc.
Written by: Robert Harling
Music by: Marc Shaiman
Running time: 103 minutes
Production company: Paramount Pictures
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures, United International Pictures, Filmes Lusomundo, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $30,000,000
Box office: $181,489,203 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Elizabeth Berkley, Stockard Channing, Stephen Collins, Victor Garber, Marcia Gay Harden, Eileen Heckart, Dan Hedaya, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bronson Pinchot, Maggie Smith, Jennifer Dundas, Ari Greenberg, Philip Bosco, Ivana Trump



Right before their graduation from Middlebury College in 1969, four friends make a promise to be there for each other no matter what. Fast forward to the future and the exact opposite has happened. The husbands of Annie Paradis (Diane Keaton), Brenda Cushman (Bette Midler), and Elise Elliot (Goldie Hawn) have all left them for younger women and they're all struggling to keep a brave face. It takes the suicide of their friend Cynthia Swann Griffin (Stockard Channing) before the three of them reunite with a common goal: revenge.


The opening to The First Wives Club is surprisingly dark. Believe me, I wasn't expecting suicide at all. Hugh Wilson quickly changes gears though as we're introduced to our three main characters. Diane Keaton is the nice, neurotic one, Bette Midler is the nosy, gossipy one and Goldie Hawn is the vain one. These are all examples of good and easy casting.

The big big that I noticed with TFWC is just how jokes heavy it is. There is a more than generous amount of one-liners and sight gags throughout and it does get a bit tiring if you ask me. I think that there are some pretty funny jokes though and overall I'd say that the humour in The First Wives Club is a success. When a joke works it really does work.

Despite her unbelievably distracting lips, I'd put Goldie Hawn as my favourite performer here. Bette Midler only steals one or one and a half scenes on her own and Diane Keaton goes into annoying territory a few too many times for my taste. It's all a matter of opinion I suppose, but I couldn't help but feel completely embarrassed every time Diane Keaton shrieked which was one too many. Besides a couple of scenes though, Keaton is fine.

The First Wives Club also has quite a lot of big names making small to cameo appearances and it's all in good fun. My favourite of all however is Maggie Smith's small role. It shouldn't be any surprise that she can play a big figure in New York high society, but that doesn't make it any less of a good performance. It's exactly the kind of role you wish could've been expanded on more just to see more of Dame Smith.

So besides all the jokes and name dropping, there's a bit more of a plot once our three friends decide to organize and get even with their ex-husbands. It gets maybe a bit muddled and overall it's quite predictable, but there are some pretty fun moments all the same. I suppose that's really what The First Wives Club comes down to. It's fun for the most part.

There's no question that it's tougher to be an aging woman than it is to be an aging man in our society. Pretty much any society really. So it's no surprise that The First Wives Club became a hit with the middle-aged woman demographic and it's still a movie that's relevant even today. Although the jokes are mostly funny, there's maybe a little too much of a heavy focus on the comedy and not enough on exploring the struggles of our three female characters. The plot as a result is also a bit thin. Still, Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn are clearly having fun and it's hard not to yourself.



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