20 Years On: “The First Wives Club”

Some comedy films, no matter the age, are just one of a kind gems that never get old. They don’t even have to be the best films made, but they just have to be entertaining. If this is accomplished, anyone who watches will be able to enjoy what’s offered, and even discover some newer-old creative voices. It’s amazing what you can get from a comedy that’s been around for some time.

The Paramount Pictures film “The First Wives Club”, is an incredibly silly film, but has a surprisingly deep focus on older women, which you just don’t get in most of today’s films.

This comedy stars Goldie Hawn (“Phineas and Ferb”, “The Banger Sisters”), Bette Midler (“Parental Guidance”, “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”), Diane Keaton (upcoming “The Young Pope”, “Finding Dory”), Maggie Smith (“Downton Abbey”, “The Lady in the Van”), Dan Hedaya (“Odd Mom Out”, “Blue Bloods”), Victor Garber (upcoming season “Legends of Tomorrow”, “Consumed”), Bronson Pinchot (“Ray Donovan”, “The Mysteries of Laura”), Marcia Gay Harden (upcoming season “Code Black”, “Get a Job”), Eileen Heckart (“Butterflies Are Free”, “The Bad Seed”), Philip Bosco (“American Experience”, “Damages”), Elizabeth Berkley (“New Girl”, “Melissa & Joey”), and Jennifer Dundas (“Nurse Jackie”, “Desperate Housewives”).

The film was directed by Hugh Wilson (“Mickey”, “Dudley Do-Right”) and written by Robert Harling (“Telenovela”, “GCB”). It’s based on the novel of the same name by Olivia Goldsmith.

The film originally opened on Sept. 20, 1996. It would go on to be nominated for one Academy Award, National Board of Review Award; winning one, and two Satellite Awards among a handful of wins and nominations.

Some films you just have to watch and celebrate. They may be the silliest film or the most serious, but there’s something that gets you excited about it, and you must share it. This is pretty much how I feel about this film. I finally saw, for the first time, some time ago, but never went back to it. I loved it the first time around! It just surprised me. It was enjoyable and funny. In this case, I just enjoyed what was given to me, which is itself rare. Sometimes my brain just won’t stop analyzing all that I see, and thus, the experience may be altered. In some ways, that’s what I’ve done now, but I still found something worth getting excited about, and that has nothing to do with the fact that this film is now 20 years old. That fact, well, it’s just something I can’t believe. 20 years. Wow. Seriously I’m getting old. I probably shouldn’t have decided to do this whole writing thing as now I’m even more aware of my being old than before. Anyway, back to this film! I think we’ve spent enough time off the beaten path.

This is a silly movie. It’s plot is simple, but at the same time it’s missing something. I’ve now spent several minutes trying to put my finger on what that is. I don’t think I came even close. When I look at this film a second time, and now with it turning 20, maybe it’s a just a product of its time. Maybe it was never meant to be taken seriously. In so many ways, this is an absolute positive for this film. Sure it may become more obscure than it is now, but as time moves on, I think this film will always be enjoyed by those who watch it.

The main reason for this, which is what I love the most about it, is the central relationships between Keaton, Hawn, and Midler. This I will definitely return it in a moment, but first this slight detour.

It’s ironic that this film could do what so many today struggle to. Find an audience willing to go see a female lead film starring older women. And it’s not even solely that female led films can’t find a large enough audience (which truly seems to happen more often than not), it’s that these types of films aren’t given much of a chance. Largely you see female led films, be they predominantly female, or just one or two, but only in the indie area of the film world. While this isn’t bad, because you still get to see them, it doesn’t help the overall cause.

People, myself included, want to see films with women of all sorts in the leads, or centered around, which is usually what happens when they’re the leads. But a lot of major studios don’t seem to take that risk. And no, I’m not going to go on and on about this bit (well, I’ll try), for I’ll never return to the film at hand. Like with good horror, really good female led films, or just some decent female led films, seem to be released by major studios once in a blue moon. And then, tragically, these films that do get released, tend to do badly on some level. Sometimes it’s just financial and other times it’s criticism and financial. A pretty difficult hill to climb, and thus we don’t get fun films with women in lead roles.

Which brings me to my main point, in case you hadn’t already figured out what that is. This film, way back in 1996 (coz I can’t drive that point home enough), was released by Paramount Pictures. A major studio. And while it didn’t do too well with critics, people saw it, and it made a lot of money. Not bad for a film starring older women, whom I would love to see in another film. Maybe not a sequel, but as long as it’s good and worth their time, I’d be okay with that!

Okay, mini-spiel over.

The relationships between Midler, Hawn, and Keaton was always genuine. I never doubted in my mind that these three women, even if they were coming back together after a long time, liked each other. They obviously have many things in common, but it was surprisingly deep. Maybe deep is too strong a word. From the moment their younger character’s came on screen at the beginning, you just understood. It’s universal. Everyone has no doubt had relationships similar to these women. Fast forward in the story, and you see them connect again. This in turn, isn’t just what gets you into the film and wanting to follow these women, not to mention sympathize with them, but have fun with all of the crazy antics they get themselves into. Thus, you stick with this film and you enjoy it completely. It’s exactly what you need in a comedy.

If anything, the worst part about seeing these women and their characters, is the fact that there was the cliché “dramatic” bit, which in this case made them split up for a bit. I just cringed. It wasn’t needed, and ruined a lot of what was already created. Fortunately, through all that came before and them coming back together, as expected, I was able to discover that I love these women. There’s a reason they’re held so highly, and even if you don’t love this film as much as others do, or compared to some of the other work they’ve each done, you’re just reminded of what makes them such talented women. We seriously need to see them in another film, no matter what kind it is. Okay, preferably a comedy, but it needs to be good.

Seeing as this film’s plain silly and fun, I can’t avoid talking about how much this film made me laugh. It made me laugh a lot! I never tired of what silly thing happened after silly thing. This basically encompasses antics such as the women escaping off a balcony onto a “window washing thing” and Midler’s pushing the button to lower them all, but it goes haywire. They speed down and it’s quite funny and as a physical gag, it’s fresh. Then, of course, and surprisingly, there are the various zingers! Left and right, Keaton, Midler, and Hawn each have their fair share of funny lines. They’re not exactly the most clever, but they’re different enough and oh so memorable. When I watched this film the first time, and this time, I couldn’t help but laugh at one line in particular. “You know what this says? It says, ‘I beat of Meryl.’” Sure it’s a classic line, but it stands out even more, at least for me, because of Jennifer Lawrence’s Golden Globe’s acceptance speech for “Silver Linings Playbook”. She says a slight variation on the line, and incidentally beat Meryl, which a lot of people took as a jab. As it turns out it wasn’t, but it could very well have been. Regardless, it just makes for an even better joke all these years later.

While so many of the antics Midler, Keaton, and Hawn find themselves in, all in the name of revenge, are pretty awesome and silly, not to mention funny, one bit truly stays with me. It certainly makes the whole film worth it when you see it at the end and it basically sends you on your way! Twice in the film the women sing a bit of the classic song “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore. The final time, the best time and the end of the film, is just spectacular! It once more puts on display the relationship between these women and how silly this film is. There’s truly fun to be had at every moment! I can’t even watch the scene on YouTube, which is what I just finished doing, and not help but smile and laugh. It’s so enjoyable! Because of this film, which I can’t figure out if it’s a good thing or not, I ended up with this song stuck in my head for a bit.

Comedies, no matter how good they were at the time or are still highly regarded, don’t age well. Whatever it was that made them work and stand out may but be a distant memory. If you weren’t there, you won’t get it. Every now and then, a comedy just works and lasts. It does come down to story, and therein the types of jokes and comedic situations that characters are in. Sometimes too, it helps that a given comedy film isn’t trying to be more than entertaining. A silly, well controlled story can achieve a lot, and sometimes that’s all you need to entertain those who watch, even if that’s two decades later.

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