Beyond The Bitch
First Wives Club
by Caitlin Tegart
In comedies, women are often the girlfriend, the wife or the bitchy friend of the girlfriend or wife (Leslie Mann, God bless you, you’ve worn all the hats). But there was a time when women did some seriously kooky shit in movies and got the be the funny, flawed, active idiot all the guys get to play. So let’s take a look at these movies and aspire to reach their level of kookiness.
Suicide is rarely the start of a raucous comedy, but, hey, the ladies of First Wives Club break all the rules. Middlebury College friends Elise (Goldie Hawn), Brenda (Bette Midler), and Annie (Diane Keaton) reunite at the funeral of their fourth friend, Cynthia (Stockard Channing) who has committed suicide after learning that her ex-husband has married his much younger mistress. How good is the casting of this movie? Stockard Channing dies in the first scene. I mean, this is A-List.
Before jumping off the balcony of her penthouse, Cynthia gives a set of Bulgari pearls to her maid (note: we’re supposed to understand that Cynthia is rich, but unhappy. This may be a theme.). Elise, Brenda, and Annie haven’t seen each other since college, so they initially throw down some lies about how their marriages and lives are going great, but after a few drinks, Elise admits she’s a plastic surgery addict whose husband has left her for his new ingenue and Brenda admits her husband, Morty, also left her for a younger woman. After much badgering, Annie also admits she’s “a teensy-weensy bit” separated from her husband (mostly because he’s having an affair with their shrink). When they return home all three find they have received a letter from Cynthia, which prompts them to start the First Wives Club to exact revenge on their ex-husbands.
Happily for the First Wives Club, their exes have a lot of problems that the ladies can take advantage of. Morty, in addition to dating a pre-SATC Sarah Jessica Parker, is committing income tax fraud. Alongside her friend/boss Duarto (Bronson Pinchot – I said A-List, right?), Elise spies on Morty as he buys SJP expensive clothes, seemingly just so she can be discovered and called fat by the thinnest version of SJP there is (and that is saying something). Annie plans to buy out her husband Aaron’s (a pre-7th Heaven Stephen Collins) ad agency out from under him. Annie’s daughter volunteers to spy on her dad because she’s a lesbian, which is this new fun thing they invented in 1996. Elise at first struggles to find her husband (Victor Garber alert!), but she ultimately finds that his current actress girlfriend (Elizabeth Berkley alert! One of the most important alerts!) is underage. Bingo-bango!
The ladies decide revenge has ultimately been a lame goal that makes them no better than their husbands, so they use the money they’ve gained from the exes to fund a charity for women. AND THEN THEY SING “YOU DON’T OWN ME” ALL IN WHITE AND YOUR LIFE JUST CHANGED.
Happily for women in comedy, First Wives Club destroyed at the box office, making $180 million on a $30 million budget and a sequel was planned, but they studio refused to give Hawn, Midler, and Keaton any raise. Hawn said “Now, if there were three men that came back to do a sequel, they would have paid them three times their salary at least. Then it was reported to me by my agent that the head of the studio said, ‘Isn’t Goldie getting a little greedy?’” So they walked. You don’t own them: Wasn’t that crystal clear?