The battle of the sexes has been going on since there have been sexes, but only in real life.Â In movies, the battle was over a long, long, long time ago and men won.Â Big time.Â Both in front of the camera, where male movie stars make far more than their female counterparts or marginal male stars get role after role while more famous women struggle to get cast as their girlfriends, and behind the camera, where men make most of the films and most of the decisions about what films get made, Hollywood is one of the most testosterone-drenched environments in the world.Â And that many of those men talk about how they care so much about climate change or gay marriage doesnâ€™t change the fact that the silver screen is a manâ€™s world, baby.
But every so often, motion pictures are made about women and their view of things.Â Usually men are still making them, but they do get made and the men making them want to wring as much money as they can out of the audience who wants to see estrogen-oriented cinema, so you have to think theyâ€™d want to make them as good as they can be.Â So when you see a movie about women that was made by men, youâ€™re seeing inside the minds of those men.Â Youâ€™re seeing their view of women, their understanding of what women think and want and their best guess at how to connect with both.
Spoiler Alert:Â They really, really, really, really arenâ€™t.So, as this edition of KIMTâ€™s Weekend Remake Throwdown pits â€œThe Stepford Wivesâ€ (1975) vs. â€œThe Stepford Wivesâ€ (2004), weâ€™ll examine whether men are seeing women any more clearly or are any more intuitive about the stories women want to see.
Theyâ€™ve replaced their wives, you see, with robots.Â Beautiful, subservient robots whose only concerns are cleaning the house and servicing their husbands.Â Robots who have no opinions, no desires, no thoughts except whatever their husbandsâ€¦their mastersâ€¦give them.Joanna and Bobbie begin to notice that all the other women in Stepford, except another who just moved to town (Tina Louise), are more than a little weird.Â They seem passive, like theyâ€™re in a trance.Â They have no interests outside their homes and their families.Â And when the women talk, itâ€™s as if theyâ€™re starring in a commercial about household cleaners or other domestic products.Â Then Joanna and Bobbieâ€™s only normal friend starts to act that way.Â And then Bobbie starts to act that way.Â A terrified Joanna tries to escape with her children before it happens to her, but finds itâ€™s not easy to avoid the fate planned for her by the men of Stepford.
As I mentioned, the last half hour of â€œThe Stepford Wivesâ€ (1975) is genuinely scary and disturbing, largely held together by the performances of Katherine Ross and Patrick Oâ€™Neal as the delightfully creepy head of the Stepford Menâ€™s Association.Â This is a suspense flick where everything is building up to the shocking climax and it pays off amazingly well.Â The viewer is confronted with pure, unadulterated misogyny and imagery that is unforgettable.Â Itâ€™s great filmmaking, but the reason why â€œThe Stepford Wivesâ€ (1975) has long been regarded as a cult classic instead of just a classic is because that incredible conclusion is preceded by a narrative that is both dated and dull.Â This film has so very little going on for so very long that it would be almost unwatchable today, except for the on screen charisma of Ross and Paula Prentiss.Â They make you care about Joanna and Bobbie and wondering about whatâ€™s going to happen to them is the only thing that will keep you engaged through 90some minutes of mysteries so banal theyâ€™d put a meth addict to sleep and plot twists so lethargic they make a sloth look like an Olympic sprinter.Â Now, it all works exquisitely to set up and provide the ending with its thematic and emotional punch, so I canâ€™t castigate the filmmakers.Â They knew what they were doing and did it well.Â What theyâ€™re doing has simply been left far behind by evermore complex and energetic storytelling.Â Itâ€™s like comparing the special effects of a 1940s sci-fi serial to the 3D CGI wizardry of the 21stcentury.Â No matter how good it was back then, it no longer meets even our lowest expectations.
For all that, the last half hour of the movie is so powerful that it burned its way into the public consciousness.Â â€œStepford wifeâ€ became one of those phrases that everyone knew even if they never saw the film.Â Which means the only surprising thing about â€œThe Stepford Wivesâ€ (2005) is that it took them so very long to do a remake.Â And boy, they should have waited a lot longer.
â€œThe Stepford Wivesâ€ (2005) is by no means the worst film I have ever seen.Â I have viewed motion pictures so horrendous, I would not show them to my worst enemy.Â But it is one of the awfulest remakes ever because it is not only an example of stunningly incompetent filmmaking but it is a complete and utter bastardization of the original concept.Â The 1975 original is about men who hate and fear women so much they canâ€™t abide their existence as human beings.Â The 2005 remake is a comedy.Â And not even an attempt at satire or sophisticated dark humor.Â Itâ€™s a broad, slapsticky effort thatâ€™s only a half-step above fart and poop jokes.
In the 2004 version, Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is a high-powered TV executive who gets fired when her latest reality show so thoroughly destroys the life of a contestant that he goes on a shooting spree.Â This unfeeling, narcissistic monster of a woman is packed off to Stepford Connecticut by her long-suffering shlub of a husband (Matthew Broderick). Â Theyâ€™re welcomed by their relentlessly enthusiastic real estate agent, Claire Wellington (Glenn Close), and things basically play out the same from there except instead of being subversive of suspenseful, itâ€™s all a joke.Â The only major differences are the remake spending a lot more time on Joannaâ€™s husband and his induction into the wife-replacing scheme and a happy ending stapled onto to all, because Heaven forbid anyone leave a movie theater with something besides a mindless smile on their puss.
It canâ€™t decide if the wives are being replaced by robots or the women are having mind-control implants put in their brains. Iâ€™m not kidding.Â They couldnâ€™t be bothered to keep that consistent.There are almost no words to describe the disaster that is â€œThe Stepford Wivesâ€ (2005).Â Imagine if the Hindenburg had crashed into an orphanage on the same day the orphans were all being given three-legged puppies.Â But hereâ€™s my best effort at telling you whatâ€™s wrong with this remake.
- Itâ€™s version of Joanna is an unlikeable ass.
- Itâ€™s version of Bobbie (Bette Midler) is an unlikeable ass.
- Thereâ€™s a gay couple in the remake and one of the guys is supposed to be funny because heâ€™s a sassy homosexual.
- Thereâ€™s a Stepford dog.
- In the original, Joannaâ€™s husband moves them to Stepford because he knows about the conspiracy and wants to be part of it. In the remake, he moves them to Stepford at random without knowing anything about it.
- 29 years later and the remake is even whiter than the original.
- When one of the gay guys has his husband Stepfordized, it isnâ€™t to make him a submissive servant. It turns him into a straight laced conservative who, far from submissive, becomes a candidate for state senate.Â But if thatâ€™s the kind of guy he wanted to be married to, WHY DIDNâ€™T HE JUST MARRY THAT KIND OF GUY?Â And why is his Stepford spouse running for political office?Â Wouldnâ€™t the gay Republican want a Stepford spouse to support him as he ran for state senate?
- Jon Lovitz is in it.
- The remake expects the viewer to believe that when Joanna was Stepfordized, that no one other than her husband observed the process.
- Joannaâ€™s husband foils the Stepford conspiracy by randomly pressing buttons on a computer screen until the women revert back to normal. You could get away with that kind of technical ignorance in 1975 but who in 2004 was supposed to accept reversing a computer program by mashing buttons?
- Joannaâ€™s husband turns out to be the hero of the story. Yes, they took a parable about misogyny and made a dude the hero.Â Itâ€™s a manâ€™s world, baby.
- It has a fashion sense thatâ€™s worse than the original, which is saying a lot if youâ€™ve seen what people wore back in the 70s. The women in 2004 are all wearing hats like theyâ€™re at the Kentucky Derby.
- The men in the remake are simultaneously supposed to be losers who couldnâ€™t handle being married to super successful women and super successful businessmen themselves who had the brains and resources to pull off this Stepford scam. Itâ€™s like no one involved in the production actually read the entire screenplay.
- The two most dramatic scenes in the remake are burdened with more talking than a 36 hour U.S. Senate filibuster. If you showed those scenes to Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, they would both say â€œMan, you really should have cut some of that dialog.â€
- Director Frank Oz included a scene of Bette Midler running toward the camera. No one should ever have to watch Bette Midler run.
- The remake openly endorses the fears of every man whoâ€™s worried that women and homosexuals are taking over the culture and undercutting their masculinity. It doesnâ€™t just endorse it.Â It celebrates it.
I could go on but if you havenâ€™t gotten the point by now, Iâ€™m wasting your time and mine.
â€œThe Stepford Wivesâ€ (1975) is a cult classic in the truest sense.Â Itâ€™s not that good but what is good about it is very striking and memorable.Â Thatâ€™s more than enough to take this Throwdown over a remake that is an embarrassment to everyone who made it, everyone who watches it and everyone who lives in the same space/time continuum as it.Â How can a movie made in 2004 have a less enlightened and more retrograde understanding of sexism than one made in 1974?Â Damned if I know.