February 10, 2006
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine, Jason Schwartzman, Kristin Chenoweth, Heather Brooks, Jim Turner, Stephen Colbert, David Alan Grier, Steve Carell,
The big screen version of Bewitched (2005) has had a checked past, mostly spent in development hell as many screenwriters and filmmakers took a stab at trying to get it made. Nora Ephron and her sister Delia finally got it off the ground with their self-reflexive take. Instead of doing a straightforward adaptation of the famous T.V. show they’ve attempted to be clever by making a movie about people trying to remake the classic T.V. show.
Isabel Bigelow (Kidman) is a witch who just wants a normal life, to meet a man and have lots of friends. However, she relies on using her powers to get whatever she wants but it still doesn’t make her happy. Jack Wyatt (Ferrell) is a pompous actor trying to recover from a few bad career moves. He takes a gig on a T.V. show, a modern reworking of Bewitched in an attempt to get back on top. Jack demands that an unknown be cast as Samantha so that she doesn’t upstage him.
He spots Isabel at a bookstore and is convinced that she would be the perfect Samantha even though she has zero acting experience. However, she does have the trademark nose wiggle down cold. For Isabel the experience is an amusing diversion and perhaps a way for her to find a man and have a normal life. Jack and Isabel start off as antagonists of sorts, he is condescending to her naivete and she strikes back by putting a spell on him but eventually a genuine growing attraction between them develops.
Bewitched achieves what many though impossible: it makes Will Ferrell unfunny. He has little to work with but it is also in the choices he makes. Ferrell plays his character at one level and never goes off auto-pilot. He is supposed to be playing a clueless blowhard like he did in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) only that film had the courage to go for it while this film plays it too safe. There are some scenes that are quite painful to watch because they are so obviously not funny and just don’t work. Between this film and Kicking and Screaming (2005), Ferrell is betraying his instincts and playing it safe (thank god for his turn in Melinda and Melinda).
Along with The Stepford Wives (2004), Nicole Kidman proves with this film beyond a shadow of a doubt that she cannot do comedy. Her performance feels forced. She’s trying too hard to be funny and it shows. Watching her jump up and down with glee or play the pop culturally naïve Isabel is like watching an alien from another planet try to understand our culture and failing. She is clearly out of her element. It doesn’t help that her and Ferrell have no chemistry together – the kiss of death for a romantic comedy. Kidman might have the potential to be funny if given the right material and director. Someone like James L. Brooks or Cameron Crowe would be ideal because their films straddle the line between comedy and drama.
Bewitched is so eager to please and wants us to like it so much that it gives off the distinctive whiff of desperation. This movie is far too fluffy and superficial for someone known for their dramatic weight like Kidman and she looks lost. Her performance proves that it is much harder to do comedy than it is to do drama. It’s as if the Ephron sisters studied I Married a Witch (1942) and Bell, Book and Candle (1958) but failed to grasp what makes them work. Bewitched is a confused mess of a movie that wants to be like a classic screwball comedy and a self-reflexive piece of metafiction but these two contrasting approaches never come together successfully in this embarrassingly awful movie.
There is an audio commentary by Nora Ephron. She feels that straightforward remakes are more like imitations whereas she wanted to reinvent it or pay homage to the T.V. show. She goes off on a tangent early on talking about whether the show was pro-feminist or not and how her friends in A.A. like the show because it’s “about falling off the wagon.” She defends the casting of Kidman because she liked her personality but says nothing about her capacity for comedy.
“Witch Vision Trivia Track” allows one to see the occasional factoid appear on-screen while watching the movie. Keep your pause button handy as they disappear quickly.
Also included are six deleted scenes if you’re a glutton for punishment. There is more unfunny footage that was (thankfully) cut from the movie.
“Casting a Spell: Making Bewitched” takes us through the process of making this movie. Everyone emphasizes how this is not a straightforward remake but a more contemporary spin. Ephron talks about how funny Kidman is. Too bad it doesn’t translate on-screen.
“Bewitched: Star Shots” are mini-profiles of the cast with their fellow cast mates gushing about how brilliant they all are mixed with clips from the movie.
“Why I Loved Bewitched” features cast and crew talking about what they love about the original show with tons of clips from it.
Finally, there is the “Bewitched Trivia Game” that tests your knowledge of the show.