The First Wives Club (1996)

This is one of those mid-1990s blockbuster comedies that works really well for the most part, despite some structural flaws that occasionally derail the proceedings. It’s great to see three mature leads in a studio comedy, and it’s all the more engaging thanks to the movie’s unapologetically feminist perspective (despite being written and directed by men), but it’s hard not to notice an overemphasis on slapstick that isn’t exactly tailored to one of its leads’ talents. In theory, Bette Midler, Goldie Hawn and Diane Keaton sound like a surefire comedy team, and while Midler and Hawn are perfectly comfortable with the comedic tone, it’s hard not to wonder how much better the movie would be with someone other than Keaton in the role of Annie: Keaton is a strong dramatic actress but she isn’t exactly a gifted comedienne, and her performance basically comes down to lots of flailing and stuttering that isn’t, you know, funny. However, between Hawn, Midler and the likable, all-star supporting cast (that includes varied performers like Marcia Gay Harden, Dan Hedaya and Elizabeth Berkley, as well as a brief but memorable cameo by Stockard Channing), not to mention director Hugh Wilson’s knack with comedic pacing and screenwriter Robert Harling’s snappy one-liners, and you have a strong comedy that’s filled with memorable moments even if it’s held back from greatness by Keaton’s miscasting and some unfortunately tonal shifts here and there.

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)

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