One Man’s Opinion on the Remake of “Stepford Wives”


Living in Martha’s World
There’s a new guy-gal paradigm in play and it’s not based on The Stepford Wives–Fairfield County News

by Joe Miksch – May 29, 2003

“I really must get that recipe!”
–Carol Van Sant (Nanette Newman), The Stepford Wives

Plans are afoot to remake 1975’s male fantasy/feminist nightmare The Stepford Wives and word on the street is that at least some of the femmes-into-fembots saga will be committed to celluloid–just as the original was–right here in Fairfield County.

Norwalk’s Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum is scheduled to again play the Stepford Men’s Association’s insidious clubhouse of doom when shooting starts this summer. Paramount is also poking around in New Canaan for locations.

The making of this film–the plot of which rests in the indefinable space betwixt science fiction, comedy and polemic on sexual politics–will be no small undertaking. You’ve got your star power in Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken, Bette Midler and maybe Mathew Broderick. (The siblings Cusack are said to have dropped out, creating space for Midler and Matty.) Frank Oz, who voiced Miss Piggy and Yoda, will direct.

All this work, all this planning, all the money that will be spent on this endeavor begs the question, why? Wouldn’t it be cheaper–Nicole Kidman don’t work for scale, friends–if the filmmakers were to jettison the cast, strap a camera to a monkey and let it loose at a few well-heeled parties and, perhaps, a Hay Day market? Hire a small crew to follow a couple of Lincoln Navigator-driving, happy homemaking soccer moms around (full of Paxil and Xanax rather than having been transformed into robots, but nonetheless pleasant and pliant.) Pop into the Belle Haven Club for a night or two. There’s your movie, at a fraction of the cost.

Essentially, The Stepford Wives is no longer much of a satire and, therefore, not particularly relevant in 2003. It’s dated. In the ’70s there was the ERA, the brassiere-burning event, the dawn of Ms. Magazine. Men felt threatened and it made sense to make a movie depicting what would happen had menfolk the technology to ensure that the ladies adhered to the “obey” part of “love, honor and obey.” The movie, in a sense, served as a cautionary tale for liberated gals: Watch those bastards if you want to hold onto your personality.

But most of us, men and women, have gotten beyond that sort of thing, haven’t we? There’s a new guy-gal paradigm out there and it is made manifest in the story of former Westport resident and Goddess of the Domestic, Martha Stewart.

Her story, the unauthorized portion of it at least, was presented to the public last week in the NBC TV movie, Martha Inc.: The Martha Stewart Story. This project represents the pinnacle of the television medium and has flipped us over to the obverse of the cultural coin represented by The Stepford Wives. From strong to weak is the story of The Stepford Wives. Martha Inc. tells the tale of strong to stronger, with a little Greek drama–hubris nibbling on one’s bottom–thrown into the mix.

Martha (I’ll call her by her first name. There’s a sense of familiarity stemming from a crush I once had) cut a swath through the culture, rising out of Nutley, N.J., like the shoot of an obscure herb through well-tilled topsoil and forged a billion-dollar empire. Over the course of her years–from model to caterer to Regina Domesticus–Stewart traded on her image as Superwoman of family, home and hearth while, as the movie depicts, virtually ignoring the personal, the domestic, the role of the Leave it to Beaver housewife.

Martha’s husband, played with dignity and aplomb by the same guy who was Otter in Animal House, was left to play the role of helpmate, being nothing more than a prop in Martha’s life and her PBS specials. Though a successful lawyer, Mr. Martha was overshadowed by Martha’s relentless drive and ambition. So he took a mistress, filed for divorce and moved out, avoiding being fully subsumed by his mate.

Again, The Stepford Wives dynamic has been turned on its head, rendered well and truly irrelevant, in fact, as the time and place that created the novel and movie are long gone, having been replaced by an era in which greed and ambition know neither gender nor economic status. As Martha would say, “that’s a good thing.” Kind of, anyway. Depends on what one thinks of greed and ambition, I suppose.

Unless The Stepford Wives redux is played as a nostalgia piece or a comedy poking fun at the foibles of the past, Paramount’s new production–Tom Cruise’s ex-wife aside–will flop. Its time has passed. We’re living in Martha’s world now.

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