It's certainly admirable for a writer and/or director (in this case both) to take on a variety of genres. To pull off quirky comedy (Warm Drops on Burning Rocks) and then turn to a story of subtle human pain (Under the Sand) with as much exactness wins kudos in the Respect department. Some points for the ingenuity to weave in a handful of enthusiastic, never-used musical numbers need also be awarded. Working with deservedly reputable chameleons like Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert doesn't hurt any either. So why does 8 Women (not to be confused with 8 1/2 Women) fail to provide the simplest escapist entertainment?
Before pondering this, the question of whether or not a frivolous film is acceptable needs to be addressed. Mindless eye candy is redeemable when a) at least one character is fun to follow; b) some of the humor is fresh instead of feeling like a bunch of regurgitated stereotypes; c) not every single scene or line of dialogue is predictable, including the supposedly surprising conclusion.
8 Women meets none of the above qualifications over its simplistic, standard two hours of non-intellectually stimulating amusement. One of the multi-talented cast may have an exuberant comeback every half hour or so, but each character is such an extreme stereotype that it's as if director François Ozon taped an acting class where the subject was "pick a character for the next two hours and see how long you can stick to it." They aren't so much interacting, as one would assume necessary in the claustrophobic setting of a singular house, as they are spitting memorized lines at each other. None of the various-aged females are interesting to follow, no matter what their personal torture-that-gets-revealed-through-music might be.
As for the minute amount of plot,\ -- not that it's important -- the patriarch of this set of interconnected women has been murdered, and the perpetrator has to be one of the women currently in the house because there's a raging snowstorm outside that nobody else could possibly make it through. Over the course of an exhausting 113 minutes, each of the eight women is given a motive -- which you can see coming from far, far away -- for the killing, along the lines of Family Dysfunction 101.
About the only compliment that can be thrown without hesitation is that 8 Women is that it is beautifully shot, with lush sets and attractive lighting that have you wishing for wealth, swearing you would handle it better than those on the screen. That, and true admiration for the amazing acting chops of Isabelle Huppert, comparing this repressed Augustine with that of her recent turn in Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher.
Maybe the French farce aspect is flying over my head, but films like Clue and Murder by Death (granted, both American) accomplished similar objectives as 8 Women seems to strive for, with far better results. Ozon may be eclectic, but that doesn't mean all of his experiments are successful.
Aka 8 femmes.