Toronto
2 min

Camp for women

It's all the same meanness and greed but without men to blame it's even worse

WOMEN WITH A Y, NOT. Being stranded in a women-only world gives Lisa LaStrada (Mary Woronov) nightmares in the wacky comedy The New Women. Credit: Xtra files

The New Women is the campiest, most striking piece of gay pastiche filmmaking that has ever graced this reviewer’s TV screen. (Come to think of it, it might be the only one, but bear with me.) Todd Hughes has crammed so many bits and pieces of cinema past into this film that I can’t think where to begin – and what is most impressive is that, in the end, the film actually hangs together and makes for a great time.



The title refers to George Cukor’s classic 1939 bitchfest The Women. This extremely loose remake lifts the plot trajectory of that film, in which female one-upmanship, betrayal and general cattiness move toward all-girl harmony based around the trials of pregnancy.



But the story itself is more of a spoof of ’50s sci-fi, in which the world order is threatened at its very core and human- or, rather, womankind must struggle to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.



After a strange rainstorm, all men fall asleep, eventually dying from dehydration and lack of nourishment. Left alone, the women of the world fall to typical post-apocalyptic snarkiness -bartering for food, brandishing guns and generally being uncooperative.



As one woman remarks, “I always thought a world of women would be so fantastic, but it’s not. It’s all the same meanness and greed but without men to blame it’s even worse.”



Eventually, one group of women, including the mysteriously pregnant Lisa LaStrada (Mary Woronov, of Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls and Rock ‘N’ Roll High School fame) decides to pile into an RV and head for Elysium, the new paradise of the new all-woman world that they have heard about on the radio.



Of course, all is not as it seems and the themes of body-snatching and conspiracy that fuel the sci-fi genre come to the fore. Will Lisa manage to escape with her infant to re-launch the human race?



Director Hughes has an impressive career behind him – he’s made 13 shorts, along the way launching the career of none other than Lisa Kudrow. His last short, Ding Dong, was about door-to-door salesladies who turn out to be lesbian serial killers and was a hit on the gay festival circuit.



His debut feature has the feel of a Russ Meyer pic – these women really know how to go at it, and there is a hilarious sequence involving the requisite threat of the vaguely sadistic lesbian. The acting is Meyeresque as well – well done, over-the-top, yet sort of flattened out.



There are also hints of The Stepford Wives, as the women begin to behave like robots. There’s even a nod to the more contemporary Citizen Ruth – a group of women who have, as one character puts it, “gone granola,” sing a loopy song about “New Woman” while dancing about with Gaia, the leader of their cultish group.



Frankly, this film is a scream. A mishmash of familiar ideas, themes and situations, it has been cleverly constructed so that it has no trouble holding its own. Featuring wacky performances by Woronov along with the likes of Roma Maffia and Sandra Kinder, it’s sure to find a place in the queer heart along with Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Female Trouble and, of course, The Women.