Director Diane English's remake of George Cukor's 1939 adaptation of Clare Boothe Luce's satiric play keeps the men almost literally out of the picture. Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) is a mini-Martha Stewart living in her big house in Connecticut: She gardens, she cooks for her 60-person fundraiser, she has to be reminded to shower, she wears flats. After her father fires her from the family clothing business, she tells her best friend, Sylvia Fowler (Annette Bening), the bad news on the phone while failing to hail a cab--they stop for the women behind her. Mary is a pushover, ineffectual, lost in taking care of everyone but herself, and finds out her husband is having an affair with Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes), a perfume spritzer at Saks.
Sylvia discovers the infidelity the same way Mary did--from chatty Saks manicurist Tanya (Debi Mazar)--and rallies the other women in this female foursome: the fourth-time-pregnant Edie Cohen (Debra Messing)--she's hoping for a boy--and freshly turned lesbian author with writer's block Alex Fisher (Jada Pinkett Smith). They shower Mary with support and advice, which Mary declines. Instead, Mary escapes with her mother, Catherine (Candice Bergen), and daughter Molly (India Ennenga) to the family beach cottage, which does nothing to help her heal. Nor does the yoga retreat where she meets the divine Leah Miller (Bette Midler), a movie star agent past her fourth--or is it her fifth?--marriage, who gets Mary stoned and pontificates on the beauty of love.
Meanwhile, Mary's housekeeper/assistant Maggie (Cloris Leachman) and nanny Uta (Tilly Scott Pederson) try to keep Molly from suffering too much from her parents' separation, but it's Sylvia that she tells the sensitive stuff to because Mary just isn't there. And after devoting a life to her career and forsaking a husband and children of her own, Sylvia's editorship of the fashion magazine Cachet falls vulnerable to younger, fresher ideas. Mary and Sylvia's long friendship begins to crack during all this, and it's the only connection that feels truly mourned when cut.
The Women is complicated, but only because it's so disjointed, a discouraging fact given that this talented cast is exploring what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mom, a daughter, an employee, a friend--and is directed by a woman. Keeping the male characters off the screen feels right, but the distance between sincerity and humor grows when characters feel one-dimensional--and no woman is that simple.