The First Wives Club

Before watching the movie:

The First Wives Club.
Paramount Pictures 1996.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure what to expect, but this sounds like a scheming revenge story, which is interesting to see Goldie Hawn in. Midler and Keaton, I can easily picture them scheming, but Goldie Hawn seems to be known for more innocent roles.

This seems to have been popular enough to get a TV remake, but nobody really talks about it past a basic log line, so it’s hard to have preconceptions.

After watching the movie:

In the 60s, Annie, Elise, Brenda, and Cynthia graduated college as friends certain they were going to go on to successful lives. Twenty-five years later, Cynthia’s ex-husband, who gained his fortune through her connections, is remarrying with a much younger woman, and Cynthia jumps from her penthouse apartment balcony. Reunited at the funeral, Annie, Elise, and Brenda find they’re all in similar positions. Brenda’s electronics store mogul husband left her to raise their son alone without any support, Elise’s husband, a Hollywood producer who got to where he is through her acting career, is suing her for alimony, and Annie is separated and later finds that her husband is leaving her for the therapist they were both seeing separately. United in their mistreatment, the women rekindle their friendship as the First Wives Club, and plot to help each other get the dirt on their exes that will destroy them much like their men destroyed theirs.

I recall sometime in the late 90s or early 2000s, 20/20 did a piece on Goldie Hawn and used a clip from one of her more recent movies where she played an aging actress trying impotently to keep her youth through plastic surgery so her career can continue, and the line that always stuck with me was about how women past a certain age only get to play the rare “Miss Daisy”. This is the movie that was from. I think there’s more discussion of that problem with the industry now, if not much more done to combat it. Awareness of the problem is a healthy first step, as long as there’s a next step.

It’s nice that all of the husbands are thoroughly sympathetic, though also none of them are outright villains. They just don’t see the effects of their actions as they go for what they want. There are a lot of stories where someone leaving their spouse for someone who makes them happier would be the hero (a spouse who is a plastic surgery obsessed actress trying to cling to relevance in particular could easily be an unsympathetic ex), and they all see themselves in that story, even though we very much do not.

There is a lot of ways “revenge” could go, and I think we get a lot of simple, basic revenge plans like “oh, you lost everything”, “oh, the one you wronged is doing even better than you”, “oh, you got murdered because nobody likes you”, but the vengeance orchestrated here feels very tailored to the men it’s exacted upon, and that makes it extremely satisfying when it gets pulled off. The way the ladies find to make it bigger than just revenge is simply the icing on the cake, and really more symbolic than cathartic.

Empowering, upbeat stories about older women don’t have much competition, so while there aren’t many standout moments, this movie stands out just by being a solidly build, fun movie on a subject that doesn’t have many solid, fun movies to stand beside. It even carries a bit of an argument that it should have more company. But while it doesn’t, it’s a great example for what could be.

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