Sunday, August 6, 2023

These Old Broads: The Television Movie



This review is part of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Today's star is Debbie Reynolds.

I believe there was an ad campaign where famous and glamorous women of stage and screen wore beautiful furs with the tagline, "What becomes a legend most?". That line came to me while watching These Old Broads, but in a sad and ironic way. These Old Broads doth not become a legend, let alone four legendary actresses*. Too broad to be farce, too dumb to be remotely realistic, These Old Broads is cringe to the max.

The rerelease of the 1961 film Boy Crazy proves a shocking box office hit. Television executive Gavin (Nestor Carbonell) is persuaded to have an anniversary reunion with Boy Crazy's three stars on live television to cash in on the notoriety. Gavin turns to Wesley Westbourne (Jonathan Silverman), a documentary producer for help. Wesley, who specializes in films about former First Ladies, agrees to contact his estranged adoptive mother and Boy Crazy costar Kate (Shirley MacLaine) to pitch the concept. Gavin, in turn, will produce Wesley's program about former First Lady Ida Saxton McKinley.

As a side note, while it's not clear if the McKinley program is another documentary or a scripted show, it isn't too far-fetched given the recent The First Lady Showtime television series.

Wesley now has to contact not only Kate but the other Boy Crazy stars. Perky Piper Grayson (Debbie Reynolds) is wrapped up in her long and happy marriage to Bill (Peter Graves) and successful casino to show any interest. Potentially British, potentially American Addie Holden (Joan Collins) is more reclusive given her longtime romantic relationship with incarcerated mobster Tony Frank (Pat Harrington). Despite their mutual hatred for each other, eventually they are all talked or bribed into the special, in part thanks to their mutual agent Beryl Mason (Elizabeth Taylor).

Old rivalries and resentments quickly pop up, as do old boyfriends and family secrets. Will these three divas be able to pull themselves together emotionally and physically to get the show on the road? Will they end up driving Wesley and Gavin and everyone else crazy?

These Old Broads is full of these old clichés and inside jokes, so much so that one senses that almost no one is even bothering attempting to play anything remotely seriously. It is fine if one wants to wink at the audience, but sometimes things are so forced that you want to turn away more in sadness than in horror. Carrie Fisher and Elaine Pope's screenplay enjoys mocking the actresses' various off-screen personas and life incidents. There's Kate/Shirley's reincarnation ideas. There's Piper/Debbie's casino ventures. There's Addie/Joan's reputation as a sex kitten.

That might work, but we are not meant to see Shirley spoofing herself, or Debbie or Joan (Taylor is on a whole other planet). We are meant to see the characters, and they were nothing of interest either. Former costars who hate each other is not an original idea.

What would be an original, even hilarious idea, would be if the actresses switched parts. At the very least, These Old Broads would have done better if the actresses had spoofed the others' personas. Why, for example, could Reynolds not be the promiscuous Addie? Have Collins be the wacky alien-encountering Kate and MacLaine the sweet Piper. These Old Broads makes it too easy to see the actresses send themselves up, but all the performances are so forced that it plays like even they don't buy anything in the situations, so they don't bother.

These Old Broads also is wildly contradictory in its characters and plot elements. At the beginning of the movie, Gavin remarks that he was not asleep while watching Boy Crazy but instead imagining what the three stars look like now and "getting nauseous" at the thought. Later though, Gavin develops an erotic fixation with Addie, one so great that she is able to almost seduce him into giving them back their special after a disastrous run-through. If Gavin had started out by saying that he found "young Addie" hot and then later went weak in the knees for her, it would have not only made sense but been actually funny.

Think of how much funnier it would have been if he were sexually aroused by Debbie Reynolds.

Why not commit to having Addie be British? A strange suggestion that she is really from Kansas, down to having an American mother who says as much, makes things more bizarre. To be fair, nothing is as bizarre as Elizabeth Taylor in These Old Broads. Shoehorned in as their agent (which already makes one wonder why Wesley didn't just start out by asking her to get her clients in the first place), Taylor affects her own gonzo accent. Sometimes sounding Southern, sometimes sounding like she's from Queens, sometimes sounding like a Southerner from Queens, Taylor may be having a ball not acting, but it makes for some painful viewing.

The other women really did not do much in their roles. There was a bit of fun to be had when Reynolds becomes slightly, if not risqué at least a trifle more mean-spirited. As stated, both Collins and MacLaine did little more than spoof their own personas, which is not very interesting. 

Despite These Old Broads allegedly being a celebration of the women, it is the men who come out best. At one point, one of them comments to Wesley and Gavin that in her time, executives were fat and ugly and smelled like cigars. Now they looked like models. This is a fair assessment given that Carbonell is quite a good-looking man. Even Silverman manages to look good. That is not to say that they gave good performances. Carbonell acted as though he knew he was way above all this and thus went way overboard. Silverman did his best, even with a gay subplot that came out of nowhere and was a bit misleading (These Old Broads strongly suggests Wesley is in a heterosexual relationship). That, and that it did not add anything except forced drama. 

There are, to be fair, some good moments. When Kate tells Wesley for example, "I wasn't born yesterday", Wesley quips back, "Yeah, I'll say". Piper quips about Addie, "Why does she need a bodyguard for? Nobody would want her body in the first place". The two songs in These Old Broads (Boy Crazy and What a Life) are actually pretty good. I did chuckle at the predictably bad dress rehearsal. 

Still, These Old Broads is not good. It is a disservice for four actresses who are clearly game for the goings-on, but not so much the audience. 


*Reynolds, Taylor and MacLaine all were featured in the Blackglama "What Becomes a Legend Most?" campaign. Dame Joan Collins as of this date has not.  

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