Woman of the Year Reviews
The first forty-five minutes of "Woman of the Year" are a romantic comedy dream, a battle-of-the-sexes marriage satire that wonders aloud if a tough-guy like Spencer Tracy can handle having a wife that wears the pants of the relationship and brings home most of the bacon, while he, a mere sportswriter, sits around, waiting to be loved. But once those forty-five minutes are up, things sour, turning into a feminist nightmare. The film decides to turn against its titular Woman of the Year, critical that she likes to work hard, wishing that she could become a dream spouse, a wife full-time. Ugh.
"Woman of the Year" is, famously, the first pairing of Hepburn and Tracy, who endured a relationship lasting until his death in 1967. Unlike many of the other onscreen/offscreen couples of the era (Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward), the two were never married, and Hepburn, most of the time, seemed to dominate the relationship, with her trouser-wearing, exercise-loving persona. Tracy, in the meantime, was her foil, the guy who kept her from saying things like "I'm a personality as well as a star" most of the time. They were and are a dynamite pair, but "Woman of the Year" depletes what makes them so charismatic (though not all the time), placing them in roles that attempt to turn them into that old, cute married couple upstairs.
When Tess Harding and Sam Craig first hear of each other, fireworks hardly set off. Sam hears Tess dismiss the sports industry on the radio, favoring a world that focuses on the important things rather than the fluffers, and decides to write an article that criticizes her sensible ideas. Tess writes back, deflating his ego, and so on, and so on. They become rivals - until their very first meeting. Sam is struck by her intelligently sexy poise; Tess is attracted to Sam's gentlemanly instincts. They court, ultimately marrying. But what was once magnetic to Sam is getting old. Tess is so in love with her job that he can hardly count on her to greet him at home after a long day of work. Can she be the Woman of the Year and the Wife of the Year, too?
There isn't anything wrong with a marriage drama - but "Woman of the Year" initially promises that we're going to get a brainy romantic comedy, and, unexpectedly, turns into a drama with seldom comedy and not enough romance. It feels like Tess and Sam spend more of the film in turmoil than in love, and laughs exist only in the first and final acts - anything in-between is slightly bitter. So much of the time is used up with Tracy pouting about Hepburn's chronic busyness. I would have preferred a story in which Tess maybe brought Sam along with her on her many globetrotting endeavors, turning him into an odd-man-out while enjoying some pleasing comedic situations.
But most of the time, "Woman of the Year" stays serious, a disappointing fact considering how funny it can be. The ending, which sees Tess trying to be the perfect housewife by making Sam breakfast in bed, rings with potential hilarity. Hepburn is game, and her timing is flawless. In fact, the scene is hilarious. But it's also coated in wasted energy; why couldn't more of "Woman of the Year" had scenes like this? The film's many failures are not the fault of Hepburn and Tracy, though - Hepburn, in an Oscar nominated performance, slides through comedic, dramatic, and romantic scenes like a grizzled veteran, and Tracy, always an appealing lead, manages to keep Sam from going down too harsh of a path.
"Woman of the Year" would have been better as a screwball comedy, or a romantic drama without Tracy that saw career woman Hepburn flying around the globe, using men along the way, perhaps falling in love accidentally. But the film doesn't know if it wants to be a romantic comedy or a marriage drama. It's unsatisfying.