STEPFORD WIVES, THE
After a falling out with management at work, high profile TV executive Joanna (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) move to the beautiful, secured and upper-class suburb of Stepford, Connecticut, where something strange is happening amongst the all too ordinary behaviour of the women. All the wives living in the houses around them seem too perfect. All that is, except Bobbie (Bette Midler), who is cranky, sarcastic and slobby but who has some semblance of personality and independence. As Joanna and Bobbie investigate their neighbours, they discover that there is indeed something artificial about them, the result of the husbands banding together behind front-man Mike (Christopher Walken) to make their wives subservient, compliant and devoid of any distinguishing character traits. Can Bobby and Joanna avoid a similar fate?
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Now here's a remake that is not only justified, but juicified to boot, as the original tale driven by the values and pressure points of 70s feminism is broadened into a farcical fable, bulking up with even more socio-political weight. But also with a new mood of comic satire with which to deliver it.
In the early 70s when the book came out, it was the height of feminist activism. Now, it's 30 years later and the movie makes you think that so much has changed - and so much has not. In the biggest departure from the original work, Joanna (Nicole Kidman) is not a photographer but a TV executive responsible for the most awful reality shows. Here, the film plays with our feminist credentials and suggests that women have achieved what they set out to do in the 70s: they've got jobs that make them just as unprincipled and ugly as the men they now look down on from the corporate ladder.
Joanna gets her comeuppance rather quickly, but we still don't realise how perfectly her discoveries at Stepford will mirror her career. At Stepford, the wives have been turned into domesticated slaves, vacuum cleaner and oven mitt in hand, cupcakes at the ready. . . the sort of ideal wives that weak men need and want: subservient, sexually available and loyal. In Joanna's world of television, that's exactly how she wanted her audiences (ok, not sexually available but certainly sexually aware, in as sleazy a way as possible).
So in that sense, posits the film, feminism has succeeded and failed in equal measure. But in the parody of the 50s, signalled by a hilarious sequence under the opening titles, the film also takes us back to a time in history where public America was conservative and apparently pure white. But if Stepford is 50s America, the film's surprise denouement, which points a manipulative finger to both sexes, is pure New World, where power is exercised behind the scenes by people you least expect. (Discuss...)
As it comes to its inescapable ending, with the tables turned and the men subservient etc, we are left to reflect that the very ingredient that was the emotional and socio-political football all along - real, human, respectful, heartwarming love - has been vacuumed up with the dust in the aftermath of the battle of the sexes.
A funny, brilliantly sarcastic film, The Stepford Wives takes the cupcake.
Review by Louise Keller:
A biting parable about perfection and happiness, The Stepford Wives pushes the boundaries of the battle of the sexes until ripples form. There's plenty going on under the surface of this slick dramatic comedy from Frank Oz, as he explores the roles that men and women play in society.
A remake of the 1975 adaptation of Ira Levin's book that starred Katharine Ross and Paula Prentiss, the premise is that men are really insecure simpletons convinced that happiness lies in having a shapely, but subservient bleached-blonde to fulfill their fantasies - especially in the kitchen. A keenly observed and updated script keeps the story fresh, while the charismatic cast delivers on all counts. The climax may not zing as much as expected, but Bette Midler's brash writer and Roger Bart's camp political aspirant offer sparkling highlights as they steal scenes with deft delivery. Who could ask for more than Christopher Walken's erudite Mike, and Glenn Close's syrupy Claire, who is sugar-cane in a headband.
It's through the eyes of Nicole Kidman's self-centred high-flyer Joanna, that we enter the tranquil and picturesque world of Stepford, with its extravagant gardens, buxom blondes and culinary perfection. And Kidman skillfully manages to make us like her, which is crucial to the journey. Not since Far From Heaven and Pleasantville, have frocks twirled so gracefully and housework seemed so glamorous. And far, far away from the world of female dominance, we learn that 'only career bitches' wear black, and there is life and hope beyond anti-depressants.
Ah yes. Sigh. Everywoman looks like animated-Barbie, as she exercises to the rhythms of the washing machine and is the ultimate sex slave. Happiness is waltzing down the supermarket aisle, churning out production lines of multi-coloured cup cakes and even spitting out cash on demand - literally. Doesn't everyman long to live in a perpetual state of boyhood - smoking cigars, playing games, bonding with his pals?
The film looks splendid with its seductive settings and lavish, plush locations highlight the blackness of the comedy. There are many splendid one-liners, but best of all are the multi-layered themes that shake up any complacency that is lurking, prompting us to revisit the road that leads to happiness.
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STEPFORD WIVES, THE (M)
CAST: Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Faith Hill, Roger Bart, Jon Lovitz and Glenn Close
PRODUCER: Donald De Line, Gabriel Grunfeld, Scott Rudin, Edgar J. Scherick
DIRECTOR: Frank Oz
SCRIPT: Paul Rudnick (book by Ira Levin)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rob Hahn
EDITOR: Jay Rabinowitz
MUSIC: David Arnold
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jackson De Govia
RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 15, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
VIDEO RELEASE: December 1, 2004