Remake up to par

Sophistication is the word when it comes to “The Women”, an update of the 1939 MGM classic. In fact, perhaps the words clever, classy and upscale could also be used to describe the film.

What makes “The Women” so witty and sophisticated is that it strives to set itself apart from such scandalous hits as ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and the blunt sexuality of HBO’s “Sex and the City.”

Instead, “The Women” manages to convey a sense of mature perfection that can only be achieved by ladies who behave like intellectual adults, which is saying something, considering the fact that both “Desperate Housewives” and “Sex and the City” are ratings powerhouses.

Directed and written by Diane English, the Emmy winning creator of television’s “Murphy Brown,” the 2008 adaptation of “The Women” works overtime to separate itself from the original movie.

The original film was based on the 1936 play written by Clare Boothe Luce. Unlike the original, the new film features an ethnically diverse cast of characters, which ultimately makes it more appealing.

Just like the original motion picture, English’s version follows the story of Mary Haines, a fashion designer beautifully portrayed by Meg Ryan, who steps into the shoes of Norma Shearer. Mary is great at multitasking- not only does she find the time to work for her father, raise a 12-year-old daughter and throw extravagant lunch parties, but she’s also the leader of her fabulous foursome. Needless to say, Mary Haines is a superwoman.

Unfortunately, her marriage isn’t so super.

Upon discovering that her husband is having an extramarital affair with an exceedingly attractive, exceedingly sassy and exceedingly confident seductress played to perfection by Eva Mendes, Mary decides to find out just how strong she is without her wealthy husband.

Therein lies the tale of “The Women,” a warm and fuzzy comedy about finding out what you really want – at least that’s what the tagline proclaims.

The film is all about the girls. Men are never seen but often mentioned. The same thing was done with the first two versions and English made sure to do the same in her production. She also enlisted the help of several talented Hollywood actresses to lead her comedy.

Joining Ryan is two-time Academy Award nominee Annette Benning who stars as Mary’s best friend, magazine editor Sylvie Fowler, whose elegance is as sharp as her impeccable fashion sense. Emmy award winner Debra Messing, of TV’s “Will and Grace,” provides laughs as Edie Cohen, an eccentric mother of four. The last member of the quartet, Jada Pinkett Smith, makes quite a comeback as Alex Fisher, a stylish lesbian novelist who always voices the things that people are afraid to say aloud.

Rounding out the cast in diverse and funny roles are Bette Midler, Carrie Fisher, Lynn Whitfield, Cloris Leachman, Candice Bergen, and Debi Mazar who almost manages to steal the show as a manicurist with a nose for gossip.

However, the one woman who dominates every scene she appears in is the beautiful and vivacious Mendes who, in the Joan Crawford role, manages to convey sheer cattiness. Mendes vamps it up as Mary’s competition, the alluring Crystal Allen, a perfume saleswoman whose slow motion strut and arched eyebrows are a force to be reckoned with.

Despite the fact that “The Women” features an all-star cast along with witty dialogue and a heavy marketing campaign, the film opened in fourth place after competing with movies headlined by Brad Pitt, Tyler Perry and Al Pacino.

So far “The Women” has garnered 10.1 million, which really isn’t bad considering the film was produced with a budget of 16 million. Surely it will surpass that diminutive amount in the coming weeks. It had better.

After all, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.