The three divas

Hawn, Keaton and Midler put fun on the agenda of 'First Wives' Club'

BY MARGARET A. McGURK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

OK, so First Wives' Club is a revenge fantasy. Yes, it's a little fluffy, a little thin, a little less than taut of plot. But it's more than a little funny, and contains more than a little emotional truth.

Credit goes to the mightily talented trio of leading ladies, Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton and Bette Midler. These certifiably hilarious women have so much fun together that it's easy to overlook the movie's frailties, such as the stereotyped idiot ex-husbands and the stereotyped bimbos who steal them.

Elise (Ms. Hawn), Annie (Ms. Keaton) and Brenda (Ms. Midler) are old college buddies drawn together by the suicide of a former classmate whose husband left her for a younger woman. That turns out to be another thing they have in common, to their mutual misery.

For women of what used to be called ''a certain age,'' such abandonment is the stuff of nightmares. Rather than slide quietly into despair, the three heroines cook up a plot to take material revenge on each of their ex-husbands.

As screwball comedy, First Wives' Club has plenty of giddy moments - as when the youth-obsessed Elise winds up dancing wildly at a lesbian bar where the clientele still thinks she's hot.

The revenge plot has some surprises, but it's more often predictable or confusing. Still, the plot is secondary to the comic-diva activity, which is so high-spirited it hides some of the sharper edges embedded in the story. (We are, after all, talking about infidelity and divorce here.)

The screenplay by Robert Harling, from Olivia Goldsmith's novel, doesn't get in the way of the fun, and the direction by Hugh Wilson is sprightly.

The supporting cast likewise is worthy company for the headliners. Dan Hedaya, Stephen Collins and Victor Garber are unselfishly mutton-headed as the ex-husbands, while Eileen Heckart and Maggie Smith contribute small but delicious bits.

But it's that triple-threat combo just above the title that wins a ''Yes'' vote from me.

Published Sept. 20, 1996.