I'm always fascinated by a film, or any work of art, that's about women and their world, a world in which men don't appear: what do they think, what do they do when there are no men around - do they talk about different things, act differently, and so on? But the new film "The Women" is an unexpectedly odd and confused film; it has no men in it but everything that happens is determined by those offscreen men. And though that isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's not quite what you would expect from something that takes its title, at least, from Clare Booth Luce's play and film, which did not depend on offscreen men for its wit and power. In fact the only woman in the film who escapes that dependence is Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith), who's a lesbian.
But there's more that's wrong with the film. In this version of "The Women" what's wrong is that every scene in the film seems to be marking time until some outside force moves the plot along. What happens is never about the moment, but about what's coming next. Scenes that should be about themselves and what happens in them are always about the next scene, the next moment, or in this case even about the next month or two, as we see from various techniques that indicate the passage of time, such as turning the foliage of Central Park from green to red.
The film begins with an overextended introduction to each of the women friends at a charity lunch for improvements to New York's Central Park that's held at the Connecticut house of Mary, who's played by Meg Ryan. The film turns on the fact that Mary's husband is having an affair with what they call the shpritzer woman (Eva Mendes), a woman who sprays samples of perfume at Saks, which is apparently the only place where the women shop.
At the same time Mary's best friend, Silvie (Annette Bening), who edits a woman's magazine, is dealing with falling circulation and a nervous publisher - also a man. The other women simply come and go as needed; they have no personalities, but are given a characterization instead: one of them is pregnant with her fifth child ("After four girls I have to have a boy."), the lesbian is there simply to mock the heterosexuals, and so on.
There are, however, some fine older actresses in "The Women" who know how to make lemonade from this lemon: Annette Bening is always interesting to look at and can make even the lamest lines work well. Bette Midler as a frequent visitor to a weight-loss spa, Cloris Leachman as Mary's maid, and Candice Bergen as her mother all do their best in this losing cause.