If you have seen She-Devil, a not-bad comedy from the eighties featuring Roseanne, Ed Begley, Jr., and Meryl Streep(!), just multiply it by three Roseannes and you will have the basic idea of what The First Wives Club is like. Both are equally dark. However, The First Wives Club is also much funnier, and therefore much more successful. It's mainly funnier because it features three great comic actresses. Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Bette Midler. Among them, they have two Oscars (Hawn and Keaton) and four other Oscar nominations. Nothing to sneeze at.
After a Roy Liechtenstein-inspired credit sequence which is garish and tacky, there is an extremely weird yet fun set of scenes from the college graduation of the Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Stockard Channing characters in which all of the characters are played by young actresses who look like the marquis stars. To make sure they sound like them as well, the director has had their voices dubbed by the real actresses. It's odd to see young versions of Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Bette Midler, and Stockard Channing, especially when you can see them young themselves in Cactus Flower, The Godfather, The Rose, and Grease, respectively, and the young actresses look nothing like them then, though they do look like they might be their daughters or nieces or something.
After this, we are updated to the future, where we see that the four characters, who pledged to be friends for life, have barely kept in touch at all. The suicide of the Stockard Channing character precipitates a reunion between the other three. Hawn has become a successful Hollywood star, Midler works in a design firm headed by the wonderful Bronson Pinchot in his usual role (Funny Accent Guy), and Diane Keaton is a housewife trying to patch up her marriage. After Keaton's marriage fails, the three hatch a plot to get revenge on their husbands.
The film is quite short on plot. You certainly can't step back at the end and say, "I never saw that one coming!" You see them all coming. But the fun is in getting there.
Robert Harling, who wrote Steel Magnolias, wrote the screenplay from Olivia Goldsmith's novel, and Paul Rudnick, the writer of "Jeffrey," Sister Act, and Addams Family Values, did an uncredited polish on the script. As a result, what might have been uneven or even stupid with the wrong writer or actresses becomes jam-packed with laughs, big and little.
The scene where the three first wives visit a lesbian bar to enlist Keaton's character's daughter (Jennifer Dundas) in the plot against the husbands is really hilarious. Goldie Hawn hasn't had so much fun in the movies in years.
Diane Keaton is undoubtedly the stand-out in this cast, as indeed she is in any movie she appears in. Goldie Hawn gives her best performance since the wonderful Housesitter with Steve Martin. Hopefully her performance here will be a good prelude to her upcoming role in Woody Allen's musical comedy, Everyone Says I Love You. Bette Midler is perfect as usual, and Stockard Channing, as sort of the odd-woman out, nevertheless does an admirable job with her big suicide scene. Why Stockard Channing doesn't get more great parts is beyond comprehension. The supporting cast also includes Dan Hedaya, Stephen Collins, Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Smith, Philip Bosco, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Elizabeth Berkley (perfect for her part). Watch out for cameos by Olivia Goldsmith, Ivana Trump, Lea DeLaria, Rob Reiner, Kathie Lee Gifford, Ed Koch, Heather Locklear, Debra Monk and Gloria Steinem.
In the final analysis, The First Wives Club will not cure the common cold or solve any of the world's problems. It doesn't even make sense in places. But you'll also find some of the biggest laughs of the year.
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