Women With Balls and Hot Flashes

To paraphrase the great Mary Poppins, if you want to deliver a serious message (such as, "When it comes to breast cancer, early detection saves lives"), try a spoonful of sugar. The Hot Flashes is definitely sweet -- and pretty salty too -- with a witty script from Brad Hennig that gives Wanda Sykes and Camryn Manheim the sort of lines that make you whoop out loud. Director Susan Seidelman presides over a fast-paced comedy with surprisingly slick sporting action right up to the final buzzer and a powerful story that shows it's never too late to live your own life.

The Hot Flashes is set in Texas, right in the middle of the Bible belt, where the women still have big hair, drive pick up trucks and have a Reputation To Protect. Brooke Shields plays Beth Humphrey, a woman who has just reached a certain age, and is bewildered and befogged. She is in a marriage (to a two-timing rat, played oh-so-silkily by Eric Roberts) that has fallen into the twin lazy boy loungers and frozen turkey dinner rut.

As with all good plots, something, or someone needs to wake Beth up. Here it's the closure of the mobile mammogram unit that was started in memory of her friend Tess. Subtly done is the underlying message that it could have been any of the women in the movie. It happened to be Tess. If the unit goes away, Tess will no doubt be forgotten. Sometimes it's easier to get outraged about a dead friend's legacy than to look at the sadness of one's own half-life.

To raise money Beth eschews the church lady bake sale in favor of re-forming the once great high school women's basketball champions. And then the film takes on sexism, ageism, homophobia and all the other painful reactions to difference but never fails to keep pace and make you laugh as the plot unfolds.

We get a quick back-story on each of the five central female characters, enough to let us know that they have all pretty much given up. Beth's basketball team is a screwy attempt for each of them to gingerly (and with a lot of comic undertones) find out that their second act is only just beginning.

If your main memory of Daryl Hannah is as the bewitchingly blonde mermaid, you're going to be really surprised by her car dealer closeted Sapphic turn. There's a lovely pay-off to her awkwardness at the end that we won't spoil for you. Brooke Shields carries the heart of the movie on her impressively highly toned biceps. Wanda Sykes is a comic genius. Virginia Madsen plays a tramp with hard-won self-esteem, spandex shorts and several pairs of 80s legwarmers. And Camryn Manheim is quite possibly the coolest woman on the planet.

Just as in Desperately Seeking Susan, director Susan Seidelman focuses on female characters that break out of society's constraints and triumph with the help of other women. Twenty-eight years later (gulp) those female characters are older, they're getting hot flashes but they're still relying on the sisterhood and man, they've got balls.