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First Wives Club, The
Until receiving this disc to review, I had not seen Hugh Wilson's The First Wives Club since being dragged to see it in theaters with my mom and grandmother back in 1996. Based on Olivia Goldsmith's bestselling novel and featuring committed performances from Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Better Midler, the film offers enough camaraderie and energy to entertain. What the film lacks, however, is edge. This PG-rated dramedy might have been more successful had it taken more risks, livened up the script and let these actresses really let loose. The concept of divorcees seeking revenge against the men who wronged them promises some venom and sass, but The First Wives Club feels awfully polite. Even so, it has earned a cult following among women of a certain age, and the trio of lead actresses is certainly in fine form.
On their final day of college, friends Annie (Keaton), Elise (Hawn), Brenda (Midler) and Cynthia (Stockard Channing) toast to always being there for each other. Nearly three decades later, Cynthia jumps to her death from a Manhattan high-rise after learning her ex-husband has taken a hot, young wife. The women have not stayed in touch, and the remaining three reconnect at Cynthia's funeral for the first time in years. Each has received a letter from Cynthia and over a boozy lunch begin discussing their own problems, including turbulent marriages, career missteps and aging. Annie is separated and highly anxious but outwardly pretends her marriage is great; Elise is an alcoholic and unpopular actress whose husband left her for another woman (Elizabeth Berkley); and Brenda is still reeling from her husband's infidelity and financial abandonment. Although conveniently plotted, The First Wives Club has characters with very similar and relatable problems.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the film's message of women's empowerment and righting the wrongs of unhealthy relationships. Like in 9 to 5, this movie sees women turn the tables on selfish, chauvinistic men. Annie, Elise and Brenda create the "First Wives Club" to help other women get even (or everything, as the tagline suggests) with their estranged lovers. Brenda learns her ex-husband (Dan Hedaya) has committed tax fraud, while Elise discovers her husband (Victor Garber) has been cavorting with underage women. The three have trouble finding dirt on Annie's husband (Stephen Collins), an advertising CEO who failed to support her career in the same field. The women at first want to punish these men, but realize there is more to life than simply retribution.
As expected, the women work through their own problems together; at first pushing each other away before solidifying their bonds for support. Keaton, Hawn and Midler all are excellent, and Robert Harling's screenplay has some humorous moments and memorable dialogue. I understand that director Wilson and company were not necessarily shooting for a hard-R, profanity laced black comedy here, but I wish The First Wives Club had a bit more bite. As it stands, this is certainly daytime cable material. There is nothing particularly wrong with the story, which gets tied up in a neat bow, but the movie never really surprises or excels. This is undemanding entertainment, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Making its Blu-ray debut as part of the "Paramount Presents" line, The First Wives Club sports a pleasing 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer with natural grain and strong detail. Highlights and black levels are good, colors are nicely saturated, and textures in fabrics and on sets are impressive. Wide shots in the city are deep and clear, and close-ups are nicely resolved. I saw a rare speckle but no other technical issues.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix handles the dialogue-heavy material well, and still offers surround action for ambient effects. The soundtrack is balanced appropriately with dialogue and score, and crowding and distortion are never an issue. A French 5.1 Dolby Digital dub is included, as are English SDH and French subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This single-disc release comes in a clear case with two-sided artwork. The case slides into a slipcover with a front flap that reveals the original poster artwork. A digital copy is included. You get a new Filmmaker Focus with Screenwriter Robert Harling (10:57/HD) and the Trailer.
Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler are fast friends in The First Wives Club, a funny if sanitary comedy about divorcees getting even with their ex-husbands. The film receives its Blu-ray debut here, and for fans it is Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.