According to the 1939 film The Women, pride is a luxury a woman in love can’t afford. It’s also a luxury the people behind a long-planned remake of the catty classic can’t afford. But suddenly, there seems to be hope. On Oct. 20, Variety announced that Murphy Brown creator and Women screenwriter-turned-director Diane English had resurrected the once-promising project, securing financing and finalizing casting.
But not so fast. The remake may be in motion, but fans shouldn’t apply the Jungle Red just yet. Consider the tortured history: In 1994, New Line agreed to develop the film, to star Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts, who would also produce. Two years later, a table read with Ryan, Roberts, Candice Bergen, Blythe Danner, and Marisa Tomei promised great things for the project, which James L. Brooks (As Good as It Gets) would direct. But when the film didn’t get rolling quickly, it stirred rumors of rancor (la publicité!), something Roberts had predicted a year earlier in EW: ”Because it involves a group of women, they say it’s going to be hair-pulling and the whole thing…. F—‘em. We’ll get it done when we get it done.” In reality, scheduling conflicts caused this first of many derailments. Brooks left, replaced by Oliver Parker (An Ideal Husband) and then by English. Cast members came and went; Holly Hunter, Whitney Houston, Helen Hunt, and Sandra Bullock were all mentioned, depending on the day and the gossip. The only constants: Ryan and English, who says, ”I’d make this movie for Pixar if I had to.”
Now comes the news that she may not have to, thanks to Mick Jagger’s production company, Jagged Films, which is lining up foreign financing for the $24 million-plus movie. But several big questions remain unanswered, starting with how to make a profit when English’s wish list is full of A-listers who, given the meager budget, will presumably eat off the film’s back end. The Women has yet another potential handicap: As in the original, there’s not even a male extra. ”If there’s no Tom Hanks or Mel Gibson, people get nervous about demographics,” English acknowledges.
And finally, there’s the little problem that none of the actresses on the English wish list have actually signed on. Nonetheless, as of press time English said she was in serious negotiations, and was hoping to begin production in February, with Annette Bening as the wronged wife (originally played by Norma Shearer), Uma Thurman as the other woman (Joan Crawford), and costars Queen Latifah and Ashley Judd. Ryan is slated for the motor-mouth role (Rosalind Russell), which was once Roberts’ when Ryan was planning on taking Bening’s part. And if you can follow that, you’re only a beat behind English. ”This was much easier in 1939, when all the ladies were under contract,” she says, laughing, ”and they had to take the roles they were told to.” Get her a bromide, and put some gin in it.