Following close on the heels of ‘Sex and the City’, it’s another exclusive female-only club movie. Its seductive dramatis personnae (Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Candice Bergen, Bette Midler) is introduced by an opening credit sequence shot below the knee to reveal each character’s distinctive footwear – by their shoes you shall know them – that acts as a brazen acknowledgment of the film’s embrace of conspicuous, credit-crunch escapist consumption.
As a director, English is club-footed, innocent of the beautifully fluid ensemble work that distinguishes Cukor’s delirious, witty, cat-fight of a movie. She’s better at the scenes of greater, more intimate, emotional intensity – such as where Mary’s best friend, Caché magazine editor Sylvia (Bening), talks sex with Mary’s neglected daughter (India Ennenga) – and includes some laugh-out-loud dialogue and ripostes. The acting, too, is often highly diverting, with the older pros – like Midler, with her touch of Mae West, and Bergen, with her echoes of Rosalind Russell – showing up the younger. Eva Mendes has the most thankless task as the ‘hate-figure’, gold-digger Crystal, a role previously, imperiously, played by Joan Crawford.
Where the film really stinks, however, in its assertion of pre-feminist ethics, despite its sophist self-knowingness. On Fifth Avenue, the little daughter of Mary’s fecund friend Edie (Debra Messing) grumbles, ‘I don’t like this store – take me home!’, to which Bening replies: ‘Remember this all your life! Nobody hates Saks!’. For all who think that Saks sucks, stay away. Or vice versa.