Our famously fickle, ageist society seems particularly hard on middle-aged women. Trophy wives have very limited shelf-lives and once a crease or an age-spot appear, they are relegated to a new title: first wives. Donald Trump’s two famous exes show the best and worst that can happen to a fallen first wife: while Ivana Trump made a career out being a fabulous ex, complete with a multi-million dollar settlement; Trump’s second wife, Marla, hasn’t been as wiley, and, while not poor by any standard, she hasn’t had as luctrative time of her divorce as Ivana. The social phenomena of dumping wives is deliciously skewered in The First Wives Club, a surprise box-office smash starring a glittery trio of the screen’s greatest comediennes: Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton.

The story opens with Stockard Channing, a boozing society wife who kills herself after learning that she is going to be shunted aside by her mogul husband for a younger woman (Heather Locklear, in one of the film’s many cameos). Her three friends from college, Elise (Hawn), Brenda (Midler) and Annie (Keaton), meet up at the funeral and reconnect after years of growing apart. At a bar afterwards, the women learn they all share a grim fate: they are all about to become middle-aged divorcees. Elise is an over-the-hill starlet, who is struggling with time by getting appalling amounts of cosmetic surgury, molding her face into a parody of her beauty. Brenda’s lout of a husband, Mort (Dan Hedaya) is dropping her for a curvy, gorgeous ditz, Shelly (a comely Sarah Jessica Parker). Annie possibly has it worst because her husband (Stephen Collins) is having an affair with her therapist (Marcia Gay Harden).

The film does a wonderful job of showing how sisterhood is really the antidote for lonliness and a failed marriage. Granted, the circumstances of these women aren’t all that dire — none are abused, and even though financial matters are mentioned, these women aren’t exactly headed for the pink ghetto. Still the profound message that women in their 50’s can be sexy and fabulous is important, no matter how lush the women’s surroundings really are.

The plot is interesting, and works flawlessly for the first hour, and then things start to sputter a bit in the second half. The director, Hugh Wilson, presents a Manhattan that is seen on Sex and the City and every Woody Allen film — very pretty, very clean and very white. The lack of diversity is troubling, and it would’ve been nice if one of the first wives was a woman of color. Also, there is a troubling tendency to push the trio of lead characters into shrill harpies (thankfully, Robert Harling, the screenwriter tightens them up and matures them before they become unbearable). At one point, after a particularly nasty cat fight, Annie points out to Elise and Brenda, “We have become what everyone thinks we are…we are the three witches!” For all the wondeful feminist grandstanding in the initial part of the film, descending into sexist cartoons in the second half is a bit disappointing.

The film makers could not have chosen a better cast, though. The lead actresses are wonderful, playing up to their respective film persona. Oscar-winner Hawn plays an Oscar-winning actress and has a ball. Instead of the usual fey essay, she gives Elise a smart and rough edge — her wonderful daffiness is still there (it does have to be noted, that Hawn looks very much like the trophy wives the film is battling). Midler is also great, nailing her part as the obligatory shrew — she delivers her snappy one-liners with her patented manic manner, with just the right amount of over-the-top mugging. Subtly is never something associated with Bette Midler, but she doesn’t falter. Keaton tweaks her dithering doormat persona smartly, allowing for her Annie to grow from a faltering mess into a strong force. Thankfully, the film allows for some physical humor, as well, allowing for audiences to bask in the genius of the three master clowns. They are surrounded by an attractive cast of famous faces including an acerbic Maggie Smith, a surprisingly funny and touching Elizabeth Berkley, Eileen Eckhart, Victor Garber and an amusing Bronson Pinchot. Cameos include Gloria Steinem, Mayor Ed Koch and Ivana Trump, among others.

The First Wives Club isn’t a class film, and the script’s limits hamper it severely. It is however, a welcome change-of-pace from the testosterone-driven vehicles that ignore the compelling stories of middle-aged women.  The film’s success hopefully will inspire Hollywood to produce more movies for sexy, mature actresses.