The Stepford Wives (2004) / Comedy-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Running Time:93 min.
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, David Marshall Grant, Jon Lovitz, Dylan Hartigan, Faith Hill, Fallon Brooking, Larry King (cameo)
Director: Frank Oz
Screenplay: Paul Rudnick (based on the book by Ira Levin)
Yet another superfluous remake in 2004, The Stepford Wives takes good concepts and themes from Ira Levin's book of the same name, adds a heaping helping of slapstick, and then proceeds to lose sight of nearly every comedic device that makes the story special. The original 1975 film is a cult classic of its own, and fairly well-known, so without a new hook, this one was doomed to fail from inception. Funny thing is, it is probably because this new film deviates so much from the source material that it fails, as nearly every new element only cements its firm foundation in the realm of mediocrity.
Kidman (Cold Mountain, The Hours) stars as TV network reality show brainchild Joanna Eberhart, who finds herself on the end of a nervous breakdown when her job falls through. Getting away from the stress and madness of New York City, she and her husband Walter (Broderick, Election) move to the conservative town of Stepford, Connecticut, where they are greeted with open arms by their overly zealous neighbors there. There's something uncanny about this community, filled with hot babe housewives that cater to their oafish husbands' every whim. Strange remote control devices and robotic movements in the women have Joanna suspicious that something sinister is going on, but if she uncovers what it is, will she lose the love of Walter in the process?
The potential was here for some choice witty satire on modern society, perhaps even broadening the scope beyond the "suzy homemaker vs. modern working woman" battle that takes place at the core of the film's themes. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick (Marci X) starts off the film with some funny (and not-far-from-the-truth) parodies of television reality shows, setting the premise for a fun, satirical romp. While the tone never really deviates from "romp" status, the satire seems to get lost now and again, only rising up to the surface in ways that are too obvious in intention to allow us even the remote possibility of finding meaning for ourselves.
Frank Oz (The Score, Bowfinger), who has worked with Rudnick before in In & Out, decides on a more upbeat approach to the story than the 1975 version, and the result only waters down the messages until all that's left is goofball confrontations and slapstick shenanigans. it looks like someone did a hatchet job on the film to get it down to the 90 minute mark, as loose ends in the story are left hanging, while the main plot of the film makes absolutely no sense at all. If the Stepford wives aren't robots, how can they spit out money like an ATM, and why do they physically malfunction in ways only automated devices do? It smacks of being rewritten to appease the mass audiences, as every smidgen of dark undertones is sugarcoated to the point that there appears to be little conflict and only marginal resolution.
What was once choice food for thought is now just mindless fluff that will probably only appease people just watching for some very mild escapism, and perhaps, the performances of the film's stars. The Stepford Wives is, ironically, a victim of its own satire, becoming the mechanical, slavishly deferent pleaser of a film that hasn't an iota of the independent thinking the book or original movie had. Like the wives themselves, it's all aesthetics and smiles, dressing everyone up in proper form in the hopes of making us love it for the way it makes us feel, instead of stimulating our minds with intelligence.
©2006 Vince Leo