D: Susan Seidelman / 99m
Cast: Brooke Shields, Daryl Hannah, Virginia Madsen, Camryn Manheim, Wanda Sykes, Eric Roberts, Mark Povinelli, Andrea Frankle, Jessica Rothe, Charlotte Graham, Carl Palmer, Kenny Alfonso, Heidi Hite
When the mobile mammogram service she helped start up is facing closure because of an administration oversight that’s also her fault, Beth Humphrey (Shields) decides she has to do something about it. But with the service needing $25,000 to keep running, what exactly can she do? The answer: contact some of her old high school basketball team and persuade them to take on that year’s high school state championship team in a best of three competition with any winnings they get from side betting to be used to keep the mammogram service going.
Of course, getting the old team back together isn’t without its ups and downs, and – on Beth’s part – a fair bit of lying about the commitment of each team member. First there’s car dealer Ginger (Hannah), who isn’t sure Beth will be able to get everyone back together but is willing to take part. Then there’s biker chick Roxie (Manheim), who thinks she’s too out of shape and won’t take part if a certain team member is involved. That certain team member is repeat bride Clementine (Madsen), who had a fling with Roxie’s boyfriend back in the day; she doesn’t want to take part either. And then there’s the current mayor, Florine (Sykes), who tells Beth she’s far too busy with her campaign for re-election. Despite their objections, Beth tells each of them when the first practice session is, and – surprise, surprise – all four turn up.
All five women still have some moves, and while fitness is an issue, the will to take on the current state champions, even though they’re around twenty-five to thirty years younger, helps them realise just how mundane their lives have become. Beth’s marriage to Laurence (Roberts) has lost its passion, as has Roxie’s relationship with husband Tito (Alfonso). Ginger is apparently single but constantly refers to her roommate, Jewel (Hite) in ways that make the other women believe they’re a couple. Clementine is “between husbands”; being back on the team helps with her self-esteem and getting back at the state champions’ coach (Palmer), who’s also one of her exes. And Florine learns to loosen up and not focus so much on her political career. All five women begin to take better control of their lives and as their game improves, their friendships create an unbreakable bond between them.
The Hot Flashes – the name the women give themselves as a team name – have to overcome a variety of obstacles to get all three games played, and it will come as no surprise that everything hinges on their winning the third and final game. With Beth being tested most of all off the court – Laurence may be having an affair, her daughter Jocelyn (Graham) is on the champions’ team – it’s up to the rest of the women to help her pull through, and together save the mammogram service and show that middle-aged women can still be as competitive and determined as their younger counterparts.
This may not come as a surprise, but The Hot Flashes is another exercise in female empowerment slash wish fulfillment. Unfortunately, it’s only mildly entertaining and while the cast do their best with some of the broadest female characterisations to be seen for a while, the movie fails to bring anything new to the genre, and only sporadically attains its own aspirations. The women put aside their differences with speed and ease – even Roxie and Clementine bury the hatchet without their mutual enmity causing too much of a problem – and form the kind of sisterly bond that will see them remain friends for the rest of their lives (strange, though, how it wasn’t there when they were younger). The problems they encounter are often superficial and/or banal, and add little depth or drama as the story unfolds. There’s a bit of an old/young divide as well, with Jocelyn’s friend and teammate Kayla (Frankle) making ageist remarks at every turn, as if the women need a further spur toward achieving their goal. And the male characters… well, let’s just say that in terms of gender equality, Brad Hennig’s script has no problem in showing them all to be self-centred, egotistical and unsupportive.
Distinct sexism aside, The Hot Flashes tries hard to be about team effort and team spirit conquering all, but even that aesthetic wears thin pretty quickly. Which is a shame as the movie has a great cast and Susan Seidelman’s direction takes full advantage of the ladies’ experience and acting skills, despite being in service to a script that doesn’t give them half as much to do as it needs to. Shields, who tends to do more TV work than film, takes centre stage and does well as the beleaguered Beth, while Madsen and Manheim squeeze more out of their roles than expected. Hannah appears awkward, and Sykes is reduced to an occasional wisecrack or two, but even held back as they are, both actresses acquit themselves well considering the material. As for the game sequences, all five women show an aptitude for basketball that will probably surprise most viewers, and the final game delivers a degree of otherwise unexpected tension (even if the outcome is never in doubt).
Rating: 5/10 – occasionally amusing but too patchy to work properly, The Hot Flashes (almost) wastes the talents of its cast; an unassuming diversion that works best on the court rather than off it.