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'First Wives': Marital Dis

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 20, 1996

Thanks to "Waiting to Exhale" and, now, "The First Wives Club," maritally oppressed women have become the screen’s new comeback kids. The old, fixed ballgame—in which aging husbands discard their wives for fresh, younger victims—is over. Now it’s time for the wives to step up to the plate and knock their husbands out of the park.

If the scenario in "The First Wives Club," the movie version of the book, seems a little far-fetched, and sometimes riddled with cuteness, that’s hardly the point. This is about the fuzzy feelings that come from empowerment and, let’s face it, revenge. As principals Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton discover, payback comes to those who transform themselves.

"Don’t get mad," a cameo-playing Ivana Trump tells the trio. "Get everything."

When a mutual friend commits suicide, thanks to the slimy jerk she was married to, Midler (as Brenda), Hawn (Elise) and Keaton (Annie) are brought together for the first time since college. It doesn’t take long for them to realize what dire straits their married lives are in. After helping their husbands reach their respective pinnacles of success, they have been unceremoniously dumped for trophy bimbos.

Midler’s husband, Dan Hedaya, an electronics emporium magnate, is having an affair with social-climbing, airheaded Sarah Jessica Parker.

Film producer Hawn’s self-obsessed spouse (Victor Garber) learned the business from her before ditching her for his own movie projects and a ditsy blonde (Elizabeth "Showgirls" Berkley).

Mouselike Keaton, who is incapable of expressing anger, continues to believe her separated partner (Stephen Collins) is working things out before he returns to the marital nest.

„ Their road to self-realization, and their husbands’ defeat and moral rehabilitation (a sort of kinder, gentler female vengeance), is paved with further indignity. Midler is told she’s enormous by her husband’s girlfriend. Hawn’s ex offers her the role of the heroine’s mother in a new movie. And Keaton finally learns just how hard her husband is working on his problems—and with whom.

It’s awfully convenient that these Upper East Side women can finance their special brand of revenge, and that every man in the movie is a one-dimensional moron. But "The First Wives Club" is a great excuse for the three stars to showcase their comic talents, and for their fans to enjoy them doing so. And thanks to great existential one-liners from scriptwriter Robert Harling (with appropriate plaudits to novelist Olivia Goldsmith, of course), gender warfare is made amusing for almost everyone.

At their first lunch after the funeral, for instance, the three friends compare notes. Middler and Hawn declare their married lives to be disasters. But Keaton, still unaware of her husband’s transgressions, insists that things are going well for her. Hawn studies her with disbelief.

"You are genuinely happy," she says. "Lithium?"

THE FIRST WIVES CLUB (PG) — Contains minor sexual situations.

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