© 2004 Ray Wong
As Annie Oakley would say in ANNIE GOT YOUR GUN: Love, honor and obey, my ass! THE STEPFORD WIVES, like the 1975 original and based on Ira Levin’s cautionary tale, offers a bizarre, twisted look at the sexes and marriages, and the pitfalls of perfection.
Joanna Eberhart, an ambitious Network president, has a nervous breakdown after a disastrous event gets her fired. To help her recuperate, her nerdy husband, Walter Kresby, quits his job as the Network Vice-President and moves the family to a perfect, picturesque town in Stepford, Connecticut. Perhaps a little too perfect. Even the town mayor Mike Wellington and his wife Claire are oddly cheery and hospitable.
Walter soon finds himself settling comfortably among the men, gathering at the Stepford Men’s Association, smoking cigars and playing video games. Joanna promptly becomes friends with fellow new residents Bobbie Markowitz, a tart-mouth author, and Roger Bannister, a flamboyant gay architect. They spend their time with the other wives at the spa, or at their homes baking and crocheting. Joanna soon suspects something is wrong with this town where the men are men and the wives are, well, perfectly obedient. When, overnight, Roger turns into a reserved gay Republican and Bobbie into a mousy housewife, Joanna realized she is in danger. Then she discovers that the men have turned their spouses into (gasp!) robots.
Unlike the spooky original, which was categorized as a horror film, this STEPFORD WIVES plays to the broadly comedic elements of the material. At times a sharp social satire, and others a dark comedy, the film offers a unique perspective of our views and expectations in terms of our culture, gender differences, relationships and marriages (here’s to gay marriage!). It opens with a brilliant commentary on our obsession with reality shows that ridicule our sacred relationships. As we laugh at the absurdities, we also find ourselves shifting uncomfortably in our seats, realizing that all is not far from the truth. The film offers many more such laughs.
The problem I have with the script is the ending. While the first 2/3 of the film is brilliant, the weird, happy ending seems out of place and rushed, as if it runs out of steam. It seems to take on a different tone and path during the last act when Joanna finally discovers the truth. While the ending does offer a few surprises and smart twists, the “epilogue” is simply flat, compared to the brilliance in the first hour. Also, there are major discrepancies that bother me (*SPOILER* ahead): we are led to believe that the wives are made into robots that let out sparks and spin wildly when malfunctioning and dispense one-dollar bills like an ATM machine. But at the end, we find out that they are still human (in the original, the wives are really dead). That makes the scene in which Joanna stares at her robotic shell totally unbelievable.
Gripes aside, there is only one word to describe the cast: PERFECT. I can’t think of anyone else beside Kidman as Joanna, and she has pulled off her best comedic performance since TO DIE FOR. Broderick is perfect as well, if not a little typecast, as the droll but loveable husband. Midler is divine as Bobbie and veteran stage actor Bart (THE PRODUCERS) is a hoot as the very stereotypically gay Roger. Walken can probably sleepwalk through his role as Wellington and still come out shining, and Close is perfectly creepy as his wife. Hill is delightful in her minor role as a Stepford wife. Grant and Lovitz both offer solid support as the respective spouses of Bobbie and Roger.
Writer Rudnick and director Oz (IN & OUT) have done a good job giving us a highly entertaining, sharp satire and dark comedy. The film has a plush, surreal look to it, which is just perfect. The editing is sloppy at times, leaving us with slight disorientations. The score, which is darkly whimsical, and the retro soundtrack are a nice touch. If only the ending is up to snuff, the film would have been as perfect as the Stepford wives themselves.
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, David Marshall Grant, Jon Lovitz, Faith Hill
Director: Frank Oz
Writer: Paul Rudnick (based on Ira Levin’s book)
Distributors: Paramount and DreamWorks
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, alcohol use, language
Script – 7
Performance – 9
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 6
Production – 8
Total – 7 out of 10