Sunday, September 15, 2013

Women or Nothing

I went to see Ethan Coen's Women or Nothing with some misgivings due to its tagline: "Women or Nothing is a play about two women so desperate to have a child that one of them will even sleep with a man." Stories written by men about lesbians sleeping with men tend to be tedious and/or annoying and very much about the men, with the lesbians almost as props rather than people.

As it turns out, Women or Nothing is so bad and so pointless that for it to be annoying in that way would have been a step up.

Here are some of the problems with Women or Nothing--with spoilers, I suppose, but how can you spoil something that is no good to begin with?
  • The title makes no sense.
  • The premise--that a woman, Gretchen, would push her partner, Laura, to sleep with her coworker Chuck because she mistrusts the genes that might come with anonymous sperm--is dumb.
  • The many reasons that Gretchen gives Laura to get her to sleep with Chuck are unconvincing, pointless, and stupid.
  • That Laura would succumb, when she doesn't want to sleep with Chuck and has never slept with a man, is ridiculous.
  • Although we are supposed to believe that Gretchen and Laura are a much-in-love couple, there is nothing in the writing or acting to support this.
  • The couple--Halley Feiffer as Gretchen and Susan Pourfar as Laura--have no chemistry, which further makes their relationship unconvincing.
  • Chuck does not know that Laura is Gretchen's significant other or that Gretchen is gay. It seems unlikely to me that Gretchen would be closeted at work, but, okay, I'll accept that one.
  • Laura does indeed have sex with Chuck, after telling him that she is a "gold star lesbian" (i.e., that she has never slept with a man).
  • The all-important discussion between her telling them that and their ending up in bed is missing. Wouldn't he find it weird that she wanted to go to bed with him after knowing him 45 minutes or so? Wouldn't he find it strange to have sex with her in what he has been led to believe is Gretchen's apartment and bed? Wouldn't he put on a condom????
  • If they did have unsafe sex, wouldn't he wonder what's going on, since it's unlikely that a gold star lesbian would be on the pill or have a diaphragm?
  • Doesn't it occur to Laura--and Gretchen--that although that Chuck is a nice guy, he still might unknowingly have one of the many sexually transmitted diseases that can be symptom-less in men?
  • Why are Gretchen and Laura so sure that Laura will become pregnant? Laura is 40, an age at which many women do not easily conceive.
  • Why is Dorene, Laura's mother, even in the play? And how could Coen, a person at least partially responsible for the brilliant Fargo, write such a one-dimensional, sitcom version of a human being? Dorene comes across as a Neil Simon character trying to be edgy. It is not a pretty picture.
  • And why would Chuck have decided not to father a child with his (now ex-) wife because there's depression in his family? Choosing to have your wife use anonymous sperm instead of your own is a great big deal. Depression can be awful and devastating, but enough to have a stranger father your child? In order for me personally to buy this reasoning, there would have to have been depression and the breast cancer gene and serial murderers in Chuck's family. (Obviously, Coen is seeking irony, since we know that Gretchen has chosen Chuck because she thinks his daughter is wonderful and wants Laura's child to have those genes. But, really!)
  • And why would Chuck put Dorene's wet umbrella in the closet of what he believes to be Gretchen's home? (Other than Coen wanting him to see some photos that are stashed there?) Who even opens the closet door of an apartment they've never been in?
  • And, once Chuck has seen the photos, which presumably reveal that Getchen and Laura are a couple, why does he not react? Here's a man who doesn't want to father his own child; wouldn't he be pissed that he possibly just fathered someone else's?
  • And wouldn't Gretchen show the teeniest-tiniest bit of jealousy when she learns that Chuck and Laura had sex more than once?

Perhaps the worst criticism of Women or Nothing is that Susan Pourfar is bad. It takes work to make Susan Pourfar bad! Her performance in Tribes was as good as any I've seen, and she was a fabulous assassin on TV's Scandal as well. Obviously, director David Cromer is much at fault here, particularly since Deborah Rush as Dorene and Feiffer as Gretchen are also painfully bad--all three are mannered, insincere, unreal, and annoying. (Robert Beitzel as Chuck somehow manages to rise above the muck.) 

What was good about Women or Nothing? The set, despite suggesting an oddly L- or U-shaped bizarrely-large and peculiarly-laid-out apartment, was pretty wonderful, and the view of the building across the way, with the fire escapes and bricks and lighted windows, was great fun.

It's hard to process how Coen came to write something this derivative, thoughtless, cutesy, and cliche. ("Oh, look, it turns out the mother slept around, isn't that funny?" "Oh, look, the lesbian's sleeping with the man, isn't that amusing?" No, and no.) How could he pay no attention to how real people act, the ramifications of people's choices, the importance of love and procreation?

I don't like all of the Coen brothers' movies, but even the biggest misfire has flair and individuality and a unique point of view. Women or Nothing, on the other hand, is just plain lousy.

(first row, tdf ticket)


Anonymous said...

Totally agree with your assessment of this show. Let me also add that no man I have ever met that suffers from depression has a body like that, hah! I'm depressed, so I will work out at the gym 2 hours a day and have 0% body fat, right.

Wendy Caster said...

Good point!

Anonymous said...

Omg, I was sort of interested in seeing it because of the actor's abs and Coen's name, but I'm glad I went through your list first. There would be no point to sit through this suffering.

Wendy Caster said...

His abs are on display shirtless for a minute, and they were indeed nice abs. Not worth the other 119 minutes, though.

In all fairness, I should mention that some people on All That Chat have said they liked it. Not many, but some.