8 1/2 Women


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I have a love/hate relationship with the movies of the eccentric auteur, Peter Greenaway. Although his plotting is almost irrelevant and his concepts are so eccentric as to defy summarization, I have found some of his movies charming, quirky, intellectually engaging, and aesthetically brilliant.

I think Pillow Book is an aesthetic marvel, although I have to admit the purity of my aesthetic appreciation was rarely polluted by any comprehension of what the hell was going on. I think Drowning by Numbers is a masterpiece of eccentric art and puzzle construction, smarter and artier than, but comparable to, TV's "The Prisoner". I think "A Zed and Two Noughts" is one of the best examples of "moving pictures" as art - a true moving painting, although is stranger than strange. As for "Prospero's Books" - well, it is unusual and quite a feast for the senses, although Elya reminded me that it was the most pretentious thing she's ever seen. And this from a Russian woman who has seen all of Tarkovsky's movies. I mean - more pretentious than "Nostalghia"? That's pretty friggin' pretentious. Maybe she has a point, but I still think the movie is a stunner in a lot of ways.

But on the other hand, Greenaway's eccentricities can be irritating and boring and uncomfortable to watch. "The Draughtsman's Contract," one of the director's most respected achievements, could be the single most boring non-Russian movie I've ever seen. "Eight and a Half Women" isn't that slow, but it doesn't possess enough of his Greenaway's strengths, and is too deeply rutted in personal eccentricities, intellectual aloofness, film theory and artistic theory.

It starts out with the death of a beloved wife, after which the sole son consoles his stiff banker dad by having sex with him. So right away you know this ain't gonna be a Touchstone Pic. Then, together, they assemble a mansion full of concubines to fill up their grieving lives. A sub-plot about the bank's foreclosing on a Japanese businessman gives Greenaway an excuse to indulge his fascination with Japanese art, aesthetic design, and flower arrangement. He's obsessed with other aesthetic forms than the Japanese. Italian as well. There are at least two tributes to Fellini's "8 1/2": in the title, obviously, and in the fact that the father and son watch that Fellini classic twice.

The movie has some striking visual composition, and a truly excellent performance from the older man, John Standing. It also has some interesting discussions about filmmaking, the engineering marvel of the penis, Kabuki theater and various other subjects that you won't find discussed in the next Bruce Willis movie. For example, one Japanese woman wants to become a female impersonator so she can be more feminine - because the female impersonators in Kabuki are trained in every nuance of feminity.

I'll be honest. I try to support individualistic filmmakers like Greenaway, because I admire solitary and unique geniuses and their disregard for the copycat formulae of Hollywood. We need such people, and who else but Greenaway could even conceive of making such a movie as this? I really wanted to like this movie.

But in the last analysis, I really wanted it to end.

In addition to being the only Greenaway film rated "rotten" at Rotten Tomatoes, this film is tied for the dishonor of being Greenaway's lowest-rated feature length non-documentary on IMDb:


2.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
3 Roger Ebert (of 4 stars)
41 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)




5.6 IMDB summary (of 10)





Box Office Mojo. It grossed $424,000 in a mini-arthouse run in major cities only. (30 theaters)


  • Nudity:
  • full frontal from Toni Collette
  • toplessness from Amanda Plummer with a brief distant frontal
  • full frontal and rear from Polly Walker
  • toplessness from Kirina Mano
  • full frontal from John Standing
  • full frontal from Matthew Delamere



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Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


For Greenaway completists only