The Stepford Wives
2004, PG-13, 93 min. Directed by Frank Oz. Starring Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 11, 2004
Misbegotten is the only way to describe this remake of the 1975 film based on Ira Levin’s cultural-zeitgeist novel. In the mid-Seventies, this story about the extreme reactions of a group of Connecticut husbands threatened by the surging women’s liberation movement was rife with topical currency, even though its solutions were the stuff of fantasy (replacing human wives with gorgeous femme-bots) and the inherent threat more the territory of psychological thriller than out-and-out horror. Nearly 30 years later, the story has been reshaped in comic terms with all the scary overtones erased, and has emerged as a wan and lifeless story that will have more to contribute to the annals of American fashion than to the history of filmmaking. Reports of rockiness on the set were rampant and late reshoots were scheduled, but it would be much too easy to blame the film’s mediocrity on these problems. It’s an ill-conceived comedy whose battle-of-the-sexes plot appears dated and out of touch. Levin’s novels (Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys From Brazil, Sliver) have always had a knack for tapping into America’s subliminal fears, but the fear of "castrating, man-hating career bitches" seems a bit too inappropriate in the new millennium and a tough nut to turn into a comedy without alienating half its audience. (Maybe screenwriter Paul Rudnick, who moonlights as Premiere’s Libby Gelman-Waxner, lost track of whose side he’s rooting for in the battle of the sexes.) It also doesn’t help that Frank (voice of Yoda) Oz has a keener eye for directing Muppets than directing people. This film’s shots and setups are bland and simply expository. And the actors all appear to be performing in different movies of their own imagination. Kidman’s drained and dressed-in-black New York TV executive provides a sharp contrast to the chirpy Stepford wives dressed in their flowery sundresses and perpetual garden-party outfits. Her severe hair bob seems a match for fellow conspirator Bobbie Markowitz’s (Midler) stringy mop. This time round, The Stepford Wives tosses in a gay couple to prove that it indeed has been updated, but it’s not nearly enough. Broderick and Kidman are never believable as a married couple – certainly not in the way that Midler and Lovitz make for an enjoyable match. Close, who is the only one who acts as though she’s a player in a farce, clearly hasn’t had this much outlandish fun since essaying Cruella de Vil. Paramount production chief Sherry Lansing and producer Scott Rudin seem to have been aiming with this movie to reproduce their success with The First Wives Club – another all-star women’s comedy that dabbles in contemporary issues. But all they’ve come up with is a misbegotten Stepford Wives Club, which even the charter members will reject.