The First Wives Club
Screenplay : Robert Harling (based on the novel by Olivia Goldsmith)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Goldie Hawn (Elise Eliot Atchinson), Bette Midler (Brenda Morelli Cushman), Diane Keaton (Annie MacDuggan Paradis), Dan Hedaya (Morton Cushman), Stockard Channing (Cynthia Swann Griffin), Maggie Smith (Gunila Garson Goldberg), Sarah Jessica Parker (Shelly Stewart), Bronson Pinchot (Duarto Feliz)
It's an unfortunate fact of life that contemporary American society views the aging of men and women differently: men become distinguished while women just become old. Some older men (like Sean Connery or Paul Newman) actually become more desirable as older grace enhances their inherent handsome features, while older women just become wrinkled, and are cast aside and replaced with young twentysomethings.
This unfair aspect of life is the heart of "The First Wives Club," where three women in their mid-forties decide they will not be so easily cast aside by their husbands and replaced with skinny, buxom twenty-five year old girls. These women were with their husbands at the beginning, they were an integral part of their rise into fame and fortune, so they can just as surely take them down as they helped them up.
As played by Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton, they are well-drawn, likable characters who have been wronged in life by their men. It's easy to get the idea that they are interchangeable because they share a common woe in life, but the script sharply defines each women in her own terms, and this allows them to play off each other for wonderful comic and emotional effect.
Midler is a slightly overweight Jewish housewife who probably talks a little too much and is always trying to be lovey with her son, who is thirteen years old and at the age where he doesn't want a mom.
Hawn is a vain, heavy-drinking once glamorous movie actress who is trying desperately to defy the laws of time with face-lifts, while constantly complaining to her plastic surgeon (Rob Reiner in one of the films many gag cameo appearances) that there are only three roles in Hollywood for women: babe, District Attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy.
Keaton is the voice of the reason among the three, but she suffers from an extreme lack of decision-making abilities and self esteem, displayed in her inability to accept that her separation from her husband is a sign of marital problems.
The film starts with them at their college graduation day in 1969, where they vow to always stick together and be there for each other. Well, time passes and they grow apart as their lives take off in separate directions. Then, when the fourth member of their college clique (played in a cameo by Stockard Channing) kills herself because her tycoon husband left her for a younger woman (none other than Heather Locklear), the three women see they are all in the same situation and decide to form "The First Wives Club."
At first, they don't know what to do. All they know is that they don't want revenge, they want justice. This point is pounded home several times during the film so the audience knows these women aren't out just to get even for their own smug self satisfaction. That would put them on the level with their slimy ex-husbands, making them no better.
Justice, on the other hand, is something entire different. With the plan they concoct and execute in precision detail using every resource they have (including an interior designer played by Bronson Pinchot and an elderly socialite who was left by four different husbands, played by two-time Academy Award winner Maggie Smith), they give their husbands what they deserve and also pave the way for the protection of other women in their predicament.
Midler, Hawn and Keaton make a surprisingly strong comedy trio. They are given all the support they need by Dan Hedaya, Victor Garber, and Stephen Collins as their ex-husbands. The film portrays the men as confused, middle-age crazies who are so insecure, they have to fall into the arms of young bimbos (played with air-headed relish by Sarah Jessica Parker and Elizabeth Berkley of "Showgirls") in order to feel good about themselves. The real key to the film is that the women always have the power, whether young or old. The men may have the big offices, but they are always under the thumb of their women, bimbos or not.
The film is quick to point out that the older women are intellectually and emotionally superior to those who take their places. The cat fights between the older and younger generations are never so good as when Midler sees Parker in the mall trying on a skin-tight black dress and says, "Oh, I see the bulimia is paying off."
"The First Wives Club" is filled with such comic moments that play off the eternal jokes associated with young vs. old, maturity vs. youth. In the end, the maturity wins out as it should, but not without a fight. And the fight is what is so much fun to watch.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat