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The First Wives Club is a 1996 comedy, directed by Hugh Wilson. It features a trio of middle-aged women teaming up against their estranged husbands and their current lovers.
The film starts in 1969, with a graduation day at Middlebury College, Vermont. Among the graduating class are four close friends Elise Elliot (Goldie Hawn), Cynthia Griffin (Stockard Channing), Annie Mac Duggan (Diane Keaton), and Brenda Morelli (Bette Midler). Cynthia makes them all promise "will always be there for each other throughout the remainder of their lives." The scene then switches to the 1990s. The promise has not been kept as they have all lost touch with each other. Cynthia is an affluent but lonely and depressed woman. Her husband has just divorced her for a younger woman. She takes care of some final arrangements and then commits suicide.
The story proceeds with what has happened to the other three ladies. Elise had become a successful actress, even winning an Oscar once. But as she entered middle-age, her career has declined to playing in B movies, and then mostly cast as the "mother" of various leading ladies. Her husband Bill Atchison (Victor Garber) had become a major film producer due to her contacts. At the present, he has divorced her and moved on to starlet Phoebe La Velle (Elizabeth Berkley). They are involved in a legal battle over their joint assets.
Annie has not faired much better. She married Aaron Paradis, CEO of an advertising agency, and has spend many years as a housewife. Aaron has recently left her for their therapist, Dr. Leslie Rosen (Marcia Gay Harden). A therapist who was already overseeing Annie's considerable self-esteem problems. Brenda is even worse. She had helped set up her husband Morton 'Morty' Cushman as an electronics tycoon. Only for him tricking her into signing away any claim to his assets, before leaving her for his accountant, young Shelly Stewart (Sarah Jessica Parker).
When the last message of Cynthia reaches them, the trio form the First Wives Club. Eager for revenge. They also find allies in Annie's lesbian daughter Chris Paradis (Jennifer Dundas), and society leader Gunilla Garson Goldberg (Maggie Smith). They have little trouble finding weaknesses in their former husbands' respective armors. Particularly when they find that Phoebe La Velle is only 16-year-old and Bill can be arrested for statutory rape.
The film had little precedents and was not expected to be particularly successful. Instead it turned to a surprise commercial hit, gaining $181,489,203 in the international market. With $105,489,203 from the United States market alone, it was the 11th most successful film of its year. It gained cult status among middle-aged women, an audience mostly ignored at the time. It helped revitalize the careers of all three leading actresses, becoming their biggest hit in the decade. Discussions for a sequel resulted in Development Hell for a decade. By 2006, all three actresses considered the prospects for a second film to be rather slim.
- Abuse Is Okay When It Is Female On Male: After being dumped for younger women, the titular characters spend the movie making their exes miserable—ruining job opportunities, blackmail, and hurling verbal abuse at them and their new girlfriends (and most younger women in general). One even has her husband KIDNAPPED.
- Acceptable Targets: Younger women, every one of whom is portrayed badly. And men, of course.
- All-Star Cast: Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, Stockard Channing, Sarah Jessica Parker, Heather Locklear, that guy from Perfect Strangers, Victor Garber and Stephen Collins.
- Artistic Title: The film uses a series of 1960s-style images of women, along with a song about being the perfect wife.
- Broken Aesop: When Shelly taunts Brenda about her weight, it's rightfully seen as incredibly cruel, but only minutes earlier, no one batted an eye when Brenda snarked "the bulimia has certainly paid off" in reference to Shelly's slimness. In fact, Brenda makes similar comments throughout the movie about slim women in general, "anorexic fetus", etc, all of which are presented as amusing. So to clarify--teasing overweight people about being fat? Horrible and despicable. Teasing someone thin about having a potentially deadly eating disorder? Perfectly acceptable and hilarious and not the least bit offensive to the millions of people struggling with one.
- Butch Lesbian: The gay bar scene... nearly- perhaps ALL- of the women.
- Dead Star Walking: Stockard Channing as Cynthia Griffin
- Demoted to Extra: Cynthia's husband and his new wife have basically one scene in the movie.
- Drowning My Sorrows: Elise Elliot bawls about how she would have been cast as the sexy lead character of Monique in a movie not five years ago, but now she's Monique's mother. She babbles about how other actors would be better suited to the role, ending in Sean Connery, but counters the last, noting that Sean Connery would be Monique's boyfriend, as he's 500 years old but "still a stud..."
- Hollywood Pudgy: Brenda obsesses over her weight in several scenes and is taunted about it by her ex's new girlfriend, when she couldn't be anymore than a size 10 or 12. It's particularly glaring in one scene where's she's thrilled at finally losing some weight, yet looks precisely as she has throughout the movie.
- Lighter and Softer: The movie is a comedy, while the book is a lot more serious, including abuse as a theme.
- Mafia Princess: Brenda. In the book, her connections was a way her husband got her to shut up during the divorce. In the movie, finding out her family helped Morty's business at first was how she got him.
- Power Trio:
- Id: Elise (Chain-smoking, slightly self-centered White Dwarf Starlet)
- Ego: Brenda (Reasonable, frank but blunt)
- Superego: Annie (Conciliatory, calm, emotional)
- Pretty in Mink: The movie has quite a few furs.
- Really Gets Around: Elise. She's on her third marriage and during an argument, Brenda snarks about her sleeping around while they were in college.
- Starts with a Suicide: Pretty much, other than a brief flashback.
- The Three Faces of Eve: Brenda (Wife), Elise (seductress), Annie (child).
- Trophy Wife: The movie is about women who get dumped, often to be replaced by trophy wives. Phoebe, the self-absorbed starlet, and Shelly, the empty-headed gold-digger, are the two most prominent trophy second wives, who help inspire the women they've replaced to create the club.
- White Dwarf Starlet: Elise Elliot is on her way to becoming this. She is still recognised by her fans, but her career is fading. She is struggling to get a role and when she finally thinks she will be cast as the star of a new film it turns out the young and hip regisseur wants her as the ugly and grotesque Mother. She has undergone major plastic surgery and is an alcoholic. She drunkenly complains about how Sean Connery is 400 years old and still a star, but women are cast as the mother when they are older than 20. In her apartment she has an entire room filled with her memorabilia, including prizes she won, gifts etc. Fortunately at the end of the film she gets better.