The Stepford Wives
Paul Rudnick (Novel: Ira Levin)
Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, David Marshall Grant, Jon Lovitz, Faith Hill
PG-13 (For sexual content, thematic material and language)
What would you do to have the perfect spouse? The Stepford Wives remakes the classic science-fiction film about rich men who turn their wives into robots.
Matthew Broderick and Nicole Kidman star as a married couple whose marriage seems to be falling apart after Joanna (Kidman) is fired for ruining a man’s life for a new reality TV program. Her subsequent nervous breakdown leads husband Walter (Broderick) to relocate the family to a gated city named Stepford where the rich go to get away from the world and live at peace with their surroundings.
Everything in The Stepford Wives is over-the-top. Kidman plays over-the-top manic, Broderick plays over-the-top neurotic and the rest of the cast play over-the-top stereotypes. The best acting comes from the supporting cast whose over-the-top performances are to be treasured.
Bette Midler plays Bobbie Markowitz a slob novelist whose husband Dave (the inadequate Jon Lovitz) grows ever aggravated with her. Midler knocks her performance out of the park with one of her funniest roles to date. She keeps the audience laughing as she goes from slovenly writer to perfect housewife without error or effort. By her side as Joanna’s sidekicks against the community, Roger Bart’s flaming gay Roger Bannister is hysterical. A particular Christmas decorating tip event shows him at his funniest and when he’s spouting obnoxious anti-perfection one-liners, you can’t help but hold the stitch in your side.
The film takes on a different look than the original film, which was predominantly a science fiction blended horror film that took the action very seriously. Here, director Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick (based on the novel by Ira Levin), turn The Stepford Wives into a dark comedy where Oscar Wilde flirts dangerously with Ray Bradbury. The result is an often humorous but highly dull film. If it weren’t for the brilliant Midler and Bart and the outrageous Glenn Close as civic leader Mike Wellington’s (Christopher Walken) Barbie-doll-perfect wife Claire, the film would be as lifeless as the women that are created.
The largest concern is with the incredulous plot holes. Any audience with half a mind will catch some of the more noted gaffes, including confusion over whether the women are actually robots or whether they are controlled by brain-inserted microchips. This result is best left for the end, but the lead up to and execution of the plot is haphazard and unruly.
The Stepford Wives is a terrific comedy but a lousy motion picture. Audiences won’t identify with the characters who feel like they’re lifted directly from the Sunday comics but they’ll have fun trying.
July 10, 2004