Girls always make you sicker. That’s how the bridge-playing biddies of The Women know the gender of a friend’s unborn baby. Even in a nascent state, females are noxious.

Clare Boothe Luce’s ladies-only play, captured on film in George Cukor’s 1939 classic and now revived on Broadway, is packed with jabs at the ”gentler sex.” The Women‘s women—a wicked clique of society gals—are formidable misogynists. Consider novelist Nancy (Lisa Emery) describing her new book: ”[It’s about] women I dislike. In other words, women.” The plot’s propulsion lies with lone good girl Mary (Sex and the City‘s Cynthia Nixon), who discovers her idyllic husband is cheating: Does she divorce the rat or win him back? Her pals mouth off opinions between manhattans and manicures.

The grandest of these dames, the aggressively petty Sylvia, is played perfectly by 3rd Rock From the Sun‘s Kristen Johnston. Like the hostess of a much-anticipated hanging, Johnston struts about in lush Isaac Mizrahi period dresses, proffering bon mots with glass-shard centers. Jennifer Coolidge (Legally Blonde) is equally perverse as anti-mom Edith. Cigarette poking between the feathers of her boa as she nurses her newborn, she’s a woman who’d eat her young if someone spoon-fed her.

Unfortunately, the tone of the play, as directed by Scott Elliott, veers wildly. In some scenes, the ladies could be denizens of Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth—perfumed afterthoughts in the lives of men, whose cleverness only ensures their misery. Others are played full camp—a celebration of women who marry and manipulate with equal skill.

The truth is, Luce’s play should court both sides—just more skillfully. (Jennifer Tilly, as husband-snatching Crystal Allen, seems to be in a different production altogether. With shrill voice and aimless delivery, she shoots out dialogue like a drunk with a tommy gun.) Imperfections aside, The Women is still a rotten good time, a smart, snapping spectacle. Such behavior may be unladylike, but it’s never dull. B

The Women
  • Movie
  • 114 minutes