This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


Interview: Diane English on “The Women”

Posted by on

09112008_thewomen1.jpgBy Erica Abeel

In 1936, theatergoers were first treated to a rousing bitch-a-thon called “The Women.” Outrageous and often hilarious, the Clare Booth Luce-penned play is set in a female-only zone of Park Avenue, and its plot, a flimsy affair, concerns the trials of Mary Haines, a contented wife who discovers that her wealthy husband Steven is having a fling with the “spritzer girl” at the Saks Fifth Avenue perfume counter. Mary’s girlfriends offer solace by feeding her marital woes to the tabloids, when they’re not cracking wise at each other’s expense, at times literally drawing blood. (Sample stage direction: “Sylvia is about to use her nails…”) In 1939, the fur flew again in a film by George Cukor that’s become a cult classic and faithfully reflects the venomous spirit of the play.

Now, after a lengthy sojourn in development hell, Diane English (the creator of “Murphy Brown”) brings “The Women” into the 21st century, turning the bitchfest into a lovefest. As in Luce’s original, English has kept the all-female cast, with nary a guy in sight. Meg Ryan stars as Mary the wronged wife and Eva Mendes as the bombshell shopgirl. The delicious Annette Bening, tearing through pricey real estate with manic glee, takes on the Rosalind Russell role as Sylvie, Mary’s best friend since college — though she’s now a happily unmarried editor of a high-profile magazine. In a post-“Sex and the City” landscape, these “Women” come from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, generations, and professions, and I recently spoke to English about her valentine to today’s woman — an appreciation of her efforts to navigate a web of choices, roles and responsibilities while maintaining a bond to one another.

“Murphy Brown” ran from 1988 to 1998. I’m assuming it took ten years to get “The Women” off the ground. Why so long?

It took 13 and a half years to make “The Women.” I started working on it before the end of “Murphy Brown.” The reason it took us such a long time is because it was very hard to get the financing together for an all-female cast. Hollywood is not so friendly to this concept. In ’39, they had no problem with it. But today, there’s a huge issue with a movie that has no male movie stars. It surprised me that even with an A-list cast like this, it was still a struggle.

How did you assemble your cast?

Meg was on from the beginning, as was Julia Roberts. They actually were producers on the film way back when, and they hired me to write the screenplay. Then over the years, as we couldn’t get the money together and the greenlight, they went off and did other projects. But we’d touch base from time to time. And I’d keep updating the script and struggling to get the money. And eventually it did come together — but with a $16.5 million budget, which is peanuts today. We got the movie made by reducing the risk.

09112008_thewomen2.jpgHow do you keep faith with a project for 13-and-a-half-years?

As I discovered how difficult it would be, it became almost like a mission. Because I could see what the reason was. I became very determined to throw that book through the glass ceiling. No, we can go out there and do a movie with an all-female cast and make money. We’re going to dispel that myth. I hope!

Do you expect “The Women” to ride on the coattails of “Sex and the City”‘s success?

Oh, yeah. I was so thrilled to see the opening weekend numbers on that movie. Our trailer was on that movie, so that introduced “The Women” to a very large audience, which happens to be our target audience as well. When Warner Brothers, who now have swallowed Picturehouse [the studio that financed “The Women”], saw those numbers, they took a closer look at our movie, and then infused it with extra marketing dollars.

The opening credits of “The Women” showcases shoes. Was that a reference to “Sex and the City”?

Not at all. We were a script before “Sex and the City” was even a TV series. We always had that concept of the shoes. By happy accident, when we got to Saks Fifth Avenue, where we did a day and a half of shooting, they were just launching their giant shoe department and all their windows were filled with shoes — the main floor had a giant shoe on a pedestal that was rotating. It’s as if they had read our script and put it there.

Speaking of the script, how did you strike a balance between the bitchy stuff and your celebration of women and female friendship?

It’s not easy. If you’re writing a bitchfest, the humor comes very easy and quickly. The challenge here was to shift the attitude from “we’re stabbing each other in the back” to “we’re supporting each other.” But at the same time, I tried to maintain the level of humor and wit and dialogue and pacing of the old movie.

Yet it’s the catty repartee in Luce’s play — and it’s relentless — that makes it funny. When I read the play, I laughed out loud.

Let’s just say that there’s a lot of humor in the movie. It’s not necessarily directed against women. Eva Mendes is playing the Joan Crawford role, the salesgirl behind the perfume counter. And we definitely let some fur fly when Meg’s character meets her character. But it’s not non-stop like in the play. After she married Henry Luce, Clare Booth Luce was living this high society life among gossipy, bitchy women she loathed. She wrote the play as a satire of that sort of society woman.

09112008_thewomen3.jpgYou’ve retained certain lines from the original, such as, “A man doesn’t like to be told no woman but his wife is fool enough to love him.”

Eva also says, “If Steven doesn’t like something I’m wearing, I take it off.” These are famous lines from the play and ’39 movie and we definitely found a place for them.

The men are offstage, yet in the play, a portrait emerges of them as poor dopes who have to be kept in line for their own and society’s good.

In the film, we don’t have a portrait of the men at all — we kept it pretty pure. And we love our men. It’s not a man-bashing movie. We do, though, create a verbal portrait of each man, to the point where people who were reading the script, considering financing it, would always ask me who was playing Steven Haines. [laughs] I’d laugh. And then I’d realize they were serious, and I’d say, well, he’s not in the movie. And they [would say], “But he was on the phone…”

The film seems to say that preserving female friendship is more important than preserving a marriage. Do women really feel that way?

I don’t think it’s more important to preserve female friendship than a marriage. But I think that there’s a place for female friendship that’s really important in the lives of all the women I know. As I’ve gotten older, it’s become much more important to me. Women friends get me through the bumps in the road. I didn’t really get that as a young woman — I was distracted with my career and my new marriage and all of that. There was a scene that had to be cut, but there was a line in it; “Men come and go; get yourself some girlfriends.” And that’s really the theme of this movie.

Yet in the film you say quite explicitly that the worst breakup is between girlfriends, even more than between Mary and Steven.

Yes, I do. There’s something about being betrayed by your best friend, or breaking with your best friend that resonates somehow. Maybe [laughs] your expectation level for a woman is higher than for a man.

What prompted you to reinvent Luce’s backstabbing “Sylvia” as Mary’s best friend “Sylvie,” a high-powered magazine editor?

Well, Sylvie has a very important career. And she’s never been married by choice, she’s a woman who’s unequivocal about not wanting children. She doesn’t dislike children, it’s just a choice she’s made. Annette has always found it very refreshing, this character who doesn’t have a biological clock ticking. She’s made that choice and she’s comfortable with it.

09112008_dianeenglish.jpgAt times your film has a feel-good, “you go girl” tone. Are you afraid of being accused of wimping out, particularly because the original was so nasty?

I know there’s a huge fan base for the old movie and they love it because it’s such a bitchfest. I know that I’ll be criticized for tampering with the old movie and not making mine a bitchfest, too. But I think that’s a really old-fashioned way of looking at women and I just could not make the new movie in that mold. Look, more than anything I just wanted this to be entertaining, a good comedy with a lot of laughs. And men are really responding to that aspect of it. Men have been going to previews — sometimes dragged — with their girlfriends and wives, but they leave and go, “Wow, I was really surprised, I enjoyed that.”

Do you worry about being accused of P.C. feminist uplift?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feminist uplift. That’s how we got credit cards in our own name.

Yeah, but in a movie…

People who know me know that I don’t shy away from politics and I don’t shy away from making a statement, so hopefully it’s not hitting you over the head with a hammer.

What’s the difference between making a movie and doing a TV series?

[laughs] I had to take a big pay cut.

[Photos: “The Women,” Picturehouse Entertainment, 2008; director Diane English]

“The Women” opens wide on September 12th.

Watch More

WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

Posted by on

Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

Watch More

Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

Watch More

G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

Posted by on

Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

Watch More