The Stepford Wives
June 20, 2005
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, David Marshall Grant, Jon Lovitz, Dylan Hartigan, Fallon Brooking, Faith Hill, Matt Malloy, Kate Shindle, Tom Riis Farrell, Lorri Bagley, ,
Even if you’ve never seen the original 1974 movie about a young couple who move to a neighbourhood populated by perfect housewives, chances are you will have heard the term ‘Stepford Wife’. And perhaps it’s this enduring mythology that gave the honchos at Paramount the idea of doing the now obligatory remake. The twist is, instead of a satirical, slow-building chiller about women being replaced by robots because the husbands feel the gals are getting ‘ideas above their station’, we get a broad comedy directed by Frank ‘Housesitter’ Oz and starring such big names as Nicole Kidman and Glenn Close. Sadly the gamble doesn’t pay off and what we’re left with is an ill-judged camp comedy with a (Swiss) cheesy plot.
It’s hard to believe Matthew Broderick, let alone Nicole Kidman signed up on the strength of Paul Rudnick’s lazy script (his idea of ‘updating’ is to include a gay couple in the mix). But on the other hand this must surely be the first time in nearly a decade we’ve seen Ms Kidman smile on screen after such weighty dramas as The Hours and Birth and it’s nice to see her doing something fun for a change. Here she plays Joanna Eberhart, a tough Network TV career-woman who has a nervous breakdown after her new reality shows goes awry. Husband Walter decides it’s time for a change and takes Joanna and the kids to live in a sleepy little town in Connecticut. Stepford is the perfect place – a little too perfect as it turns out, because the insecure husbands have replaced their wives with robots (we presume they’re robots, because Oz doesn’t clearly explain if they just have implants in their brains or are full-on metal Terminators underneath, leaving a huge question mark over the ending).
As Walter is slowly drawn into the exclusive country club run by Mike (Walken), Joanna befriends fellow non-conformists Roger, a successful gay architect, and feminist writer Bobbie (Midler). They decide to go to Claire’s book club meeting to try and fit in but quickly become suspicious…
Turning a chiller into a comedy is a tricky thing and you can’t help but feel if this had been a straight remake it would have been much more interesting; Jonathan Demme recently proved an update can be a good thing in The Manchurian Candidate. But no, here we just have a series of lame jokes and sledgehammer satire (reality shows are cruel and unethical. Duh) strung together in scenes seemingly at random (Kidman’s children are introduced and then carted off to the babysitter so often you wonder why they were included at all). Broderick can do comedy but here he barely registers, as does poor old Christopher Walken. Kidman seems ill-at-ease in a bad brunette bobb and it’s only Glenn Close who gets to shine towards the end as Mike’s bonkers wife Claire: sort of a perkier version of the first lady she played in Mars Attacks.
There were rumoured misgivings on the set during production and Nicole Kidman has hinted that nobody really knew what they were doing and frankly it shows. Despite the colourful production design, flamboyant score by David Arnold and to-die-for cast (see what we did there? To Die For?) can’t mask the fact this is a big mess from start to finish.
Frank Oz bravely steps up for a director’s commentary and subconsciously reveals how he practically cut and paste the movie together at the preview audiences request (is it better to have a long half-decent movie or a short bad one?). The numerous changes are fleshed out in the extended/deleted scenes section, which includes a big effects sequence that was cut because it didn’t gel with the rest of the movie. Also included are several featurettes which basically cover the same themes (What does the term ‘Stepford Wife’ mean to you, Glenn Close?) and are labelled: ‘A Perfect World: The Making of The Stepford Wives’, ‘Stepford: A Definition’, ‘Stepford: The Architects’, ‘The Stepford Husbands’, ‘The Stepford Wives’ (you get the idea) and to round things off there are trailers and a gag reel. The funniest moment isn’t in the film but in the Making Of where singer-turned-actress Faith Hill mentions, with no trace of irony whatsoever, that she was cast because the director thought she looked like the perfect Stepford Wife. Ouch.
One to file under ‘should have left well enough alone’.