What is this movie? A musical? A comedy? A murder mystery? A farce? Yes and yes and yes and yes. It is a farcical funny musical, murder-mystery hybrid with a simple mission -- to entertain an audience with famous French actresses, dressed in gorgeous colors, while making great fun of musicals and Agatha Christietype cozy murder mysteries.
Be forewarned, however. In order to enjoy this movie, prepare to give yourself over to campiness and kitsch and go with the flow, for even the premise is nutty. It is mid-winter in the French countryside. Marcel, the family patriarch has been murdered, and the murderer must be one of the eight women gathered in the house. It is either his wife (Catherine Deneuve), one of his two teenage children (Virginie Ledoyen and Ludivine Sagnier), his sister-in-law (Isabelle Huppert) or mother-in-law (Danielle Darrieux), one of the two household help (Emmanelle Beart and Firmine Richard), or his sister (Fanny Ardant). The phones have been cut, the car has been sabotaged, the clues have been planted. Now watch the fun begin.
The great delight of this film is watching your genre expectations get met, and then undermined, again and again. As a musical, it does what all musicals do, most annoyingly: At a critical emotional juncture, all action stops and the focus character begins to sing something or another apropos. 8 Women meets that expectation, and makes it even worse (or even funnier), because the actresses frequently don't sing very well. Or they use movements so clich that you can't but enjoy the clich itself, rather than the singing. (Note to the subtitle readers: Reading the subtitles really gets in the way of enjoying the silliness of the musical numbers so give up on them and just enjoy the actresses.) Similarly, the insane twists and turns of the plot -- she did it, no she did, no she did -- become so ridiculous that you simply wait for the next one to see how writer and director Franois Ozon (basing the film on a play by Robert Thomas) might turn this one on its head. By the end, the audience at my screening was laughing in pure anticipation of what would happen next.
Delightful, too, to see these famous French actresses camping it up. They're really over the top, and at the same time so funny, so accomplished, and so sexy, that you could watch them for hours. Combined with skillful costuming that was itself ever-so-slightly too much, 8 Women is a visual feast.
As my pal Pat said when leaving the theater, "It's like Perry Mason on acid." To which I would add, "with fabulous costumes and some of the world's most accomplished actresses." There's no great artistic message in 8 Women other than, perhaps, that art can just be damned entertaining even, and maybe especially, at its silliest. If you're willing to cut a little slack to the nation that adores Jerry Lewis, you'll be treated to pure froth, skillfully done.
-- Andrea Lucard