Film Review: The Hot Flashes

Funny, sometimes funky feminist fable by ur-feminist director Susan Seidelman is easy to like, if hard to believe.

The t-shirts are fantastic in The Hot Flashes: a spiffy combination of pink and yellow, with a zaggy thunderbolt across the chest. And so are the basketball scenes which pit the eponymous middle-aged, homegrown team of Burning Bush, Texas against the high-school state champions, the Armadillos, 30 years their junior and cocky as all get-out. The movie, however, is a little clunky though sweet, with Brooke Shields playing Beth Humphreys, a middle-aged woman undergoing some sweats due to her own change-of-life, an increasingly rocky marriage, and worries about the loss of a breast cancer clinic in town.

It’s a twofer—maybe more—of feminist issues, which is fitting for director Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan), a pioneer maker of movies about and for women.

It’s no great surprise when Beth sets out to round up her former high-school team of 1980 in order to take on a good fight: a special basketball match to raise money for the cause and keep the van “Tess Muldoon and Mobile Mammography” in business. Her teammates include Clementine Winks (Virginia Madsen), Ginger Peabody (Daryl Hannah), Florine Clarkston (Wanda Sykes) and Roxie Rosales (Camryn Manheim). Will the Hot Flashes win? Will Beth make the closing, triumphant rim shot? Is pink the color for breast cancer awareness?

The Hot Flashes is most successful when it maintains an ironic edge, such as a satirical bit in the beginning when Beth goes to a Christian center for a conference on menopause, with a slide show declaring “God created menopause” to free your inner goddess, and that 50 is the new 30. But it’s less effective in melodramatic sequences about Beth’s marriage to a husband with a wandering eye, played by Eric Roberts.

Nearly every type of p.c. character is on view, from the enthusiastic “little person” coach of the team—a disgraced veterinarian who freed animals, played by Mark Povinelli—to the African-American running for mayor (Sykes), who reverts to her “natural” hairdo when on the basketball court. Shields is terrific as a motivator of the women, and other team members witty in their broadly drawn roles: Madsen as a wise-cracking multiple divorcée who can throw a punch as well as a basketball; Manheim as a self-deprecating baker with some high-inducing secret ingredients as well as some “plus-size” body issues. The only miss is Hannah’s lesbian who refuses to come out of the closet; most distressing is her fright-wig hair arrangement and presentation as frumpy/schlumpy.

It’s not Seidelman’s script, which may account for the somewhat forced feeling to the bonding among team members, the pro-forma feminist talk about mutual female support, standing up for yourself and fighting ageism. All worthy, and true, but coming off as clichéd and oddly dated. This is too bad, since the movie does make the connection among women in sports, female empowerment and breast cancer awareness, not an easy yoking.

Still, the film is hilarious in spots when it’s spoofy, particularly when it sends itself up. The Hot Flashes have become so well-known in fact, the film tells us, that teams are sprouting up all over Texas to bring support to the cause: the “Night Sweats,” for instance, and the “Waco Mood Swings.” But the coach gets the best line, referencing the 1986 film Hoosiers about an underdog basketball team. Trying to motivate his players, he urges them on, declaring, “What are we waiting for, Gene Hackman?"