The Stepford Wives (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner27/07/2004

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 95 mins

Bland, but watchable comedy – at least until the final reel when it all goes horribly wrong. And not in a good way.

The original 1975 film version of The Stepford Wives, itself based on the novel by Ira Levin, starred Paula Prentiss and Katherine Ross and was a dark, genuinely creepy horror flick with a relevant point to make about men’s fear of feminism. Since the film still holds up today, a straight remake would have been more or less redundant, so director Frank Oz has wisely opted for a comedy update.

However, although the film is mildly amusing for the most part, it crashes and burns spectacularly in the final reel, leaving a twisted, mangled, nonsensical mess.

Shooting Rampage Leads To Relocation

Nicole Kidman stars as Joanna Eberhart, a TV executive behind some excruciating reality TV shows. When one of the stars of her shows goes on a shooting rampage, Joanna gets the sack and both she and her husband, Walter (Matthew Broderick) decide to get out of the rat race and move to the suburban paradise of Stepford, Connecticut.

However, Joanna soon starts to suspect that something is strange about the women of Stepford – they all appear to be drop-dead gorgeous domestic goddesses: cooking and cleaning for their husbands by day and rampant sex machines by night. By contrast, the men are all dull, overweight, adolescent slobs who spend every evening at the Stepford Men’s Association, run by the vaguely sinister Mike Wellington (Christopher Walken).

So Joanna and her two new friends (slobbish Jewish novelist Bette Midler and ‘Stepford Gay’ Roger Bart) decide to investigate…

Utter Disaster Awaits In Final Reel

The original twist behind The Stepford Wives is well known enough for the term ‘Stepford Wife’ to have become a by-word for ‘creepily perfect’. The remake, then, bases its “twist” on the fact that you think you know what’s going to happen, before pulling the rug out from under you so ineptly that the entire film comes crashing down. It also leaves some crucially unanswered questions, to the point where none of the movie makes sense, even on its own terms.

It has other problems, too, such as the fact that Kidman’s character is deeply unsympathetic in the first place. It also fails to take advantage of Kidman’s already cold and emotionless screen persona – initially, it seems like perfect casting, but you spend the whole movie waiting for her to appear as a Stepford Wife and when she does, it’s a crushing disappointment.

That said, both Walken and Glenn Close (as Claire Wellington) are good value and for the first half of the film there are some good gags and some snappy one-liners, courtesy of Midler and Bart. However, the satire elements don’t really work and the ending strips the film of any vaguely dark or subversive elements it may have had, as well as insulting the audience into the bargain.

To sum up, The Stepford Wives is a wasted opportunity – a comedy remake wasn’t a bad idea, but it should have been jet black and packed a punch. Instead it just fizzles out and then self-destructs in disastrous fashion. Rent the vastly superior original instead.

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The Stepford Wives (15)
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Content updated: 22/10/2017 22:12

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