Stepford Wives (2004)
Stepford Wives Official Site
Stepford Wives Clips
(Nicole Kidman) is a successful television producer on the verge
of yet another emmy-winning streak of tv shows when she is fired
from her job at a pretigious network. She then has a mental breakdown
and her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) and their two children
(Dylan Hartigan, Fallon Brooking) move to Stepford, Conneticut,
the most perfectly perfect little town there ever was. The women
of Stepfrod spend all day knitting, gardening, exercising in beautiful
dresses, and are the most splendid of all women on Earth. Soon,
Joanna along with her best-selling author buddy, Bobbie (Bette
Midler) and Democratic, flamboyant fairy friend Roger (Roger Bart)
realize that something isn't right in Stepford. All is not as
perfect as it seems...especially after Roger and Bobbie are turned
into perfect portraits of Stepford. Why are the women of Stepfrod
so perfect? What do the Stepford Husabnds have to do with the
scheme? Will Joanna ultimately uncover the truth? Or are the Stepford
coming for her to make her a blonde, bubbly piece of perfection?
Midler, Nicole Kidman, Glenn Close, Matthew Broderick,
Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, Faith Hill, and Jon Lovitz
Director: Frank Oz
Photo Scan: Sara the Divine Dutchie (Paramount)
Bryan Forbes’ 1975 thriller The Stepford Wives, Katharine Ross
plays a young painter freshly from boho Manhattan to tory Connecticut,
determined to shore up her flagging marriage to a milquetoast
husband. Here she is, persuading a feisty new friend (Paula Prentiss)
to help her form a consciousness-raising group. “I messed a bit
with women’s lib in New York,” she confesses coyly. “I’m not contemplating
any Maidenform bonfires, but they could certainly use something
around here. Are you game?” Thirty years on, Ross’ Joanna Eberhart
would be laughed off the screen as a namby-pamby suburban feminist
— or, more likely, dismissed by the smug marrieds of post-feminism
as a loser who lacks the smarts to have it all. The time elapsed
between the first Stepford Wives and this new remake by Miss Piggy
himself, Frank Oz, is also the distance traveled from feminism
to backlash. So, far from being a sensitive artist, Nicole Kidman’s
Joanna, resplendent in button-up suit and geometric power hairdo,
is the go-get-’em president of a company that makes reality-television
shows specializing in the humiliation of men. Fired when one of
her shows spins out of control, a blitzed Joanna is persuaded
by her mild-mannered husband and underling, Walter (Matthew Broderick),
to move with their two kids to the insanely picturesque Connecticut
town of Stepford. There they receive an effusive welcome from
local grande dame Claire Wellington (got up like a lemon meringue
and played by Glenn Close with just a hint of Cruella de Vil),
her husband, Mike (Christopher Walken), and a bevy of pneumatic
belles with empty eyes and mad, frozen smiles. Alarmed by all
this unblemished domestic bliss, Joanna teams up with tell-all
memoirist Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler, putting her own exuberantly
belligerent spin on the role so wonderfully played by Prentiss
in the original) and gay lawyer Roger Bannister (a very funny
Roger Bart) to try to uncover the secret behind the submissive
wives and their schlubby but dominating husbands.
The original, written by William Goldman from the novel by Ira
Levin, drew its sinister energy from an unconscious ambivalence
toward the very women’s movement it sought to champion — and also
from a mix of fear and hostility to capitalism, technology and
suburbia. Reincarnated as social satire, the remake also takes
on current hot-button issues: grasping corporations, technology
run amok in the service of conspicuous consumption, anodyne Republicanism
and ball-busting women. Contrary to recent rumors that it was
a dud, the new Stepford Wives, with its chocolate-box visual style,
archly heavy-handed foreshadowing and its scene-for-scene parody
of the original’s fright strategies (Walken’s waxy menace is once
again played for laughs), is a gas. It’s a relief to see Kidman,
so gratuitously savaged by Lars von Trier in the awful Dogville,
all lightened up and playing wittily off Midler and Bart. But
while screenwriter Paul Rudnick (who wrote Oz’s other good movie,
In & Out) adds at least one significant insight to the original’s
paranoid take on the battle of the sexes — that the Stepford community
of “drooling dweebs and mindless babes” replicates the gender
division we see every day on sitcoms and reality TV — there’s
a price to be paid for all this levity. At the end, the movie
turns some entertaining twists on the first movie that, coupled
with a perky humanistic climax, may satisfy audiences’ desire
for a marital happily-ever-after. For the sake of a good laugh,
Oz forfeits precisely what makes the first Stepford Wives still
so compelling — its critique of fascism. (Ella Taylor)
The robo-babes are back in
town with hilarious retooling of 'Stepford'
Wesley Morris, Globe Staff
Scan: Sara the Divine Dutchie (Paramount)
from the frantic worry surrounding Paramount's "Stepford
Wives" remake, you'd think the movie was a Democrat running
president. But watching this satire, you realize that the folks
who've made it aren't inept; the people marketing it are. Instead
of hogging billboards and littering magazines with posters of
a Barbied-up Nicole Kidman holding a finger to her mouth, perfuming
away the presumed stink, somebody should be out selling screenwriter
Paul Rudnick's withering jokes and the cast's killer performances.
Apparently, "The Stepford Wives" has been tested more
than a sprinter headed to the Olympics, and parts have been reshot,
dumped, and injected with Botox. So the finished product has a
cobbled-together structure and mismatched, mood-swinging energy,
and the narrative is usually nonsense. (The movie's only decently
put-together sequence is a gorgeous and eerily balletic montage
of women horny over their appliances in the opening credits.)
Still, "The Stepford Wives" is nothing to be ashamed
of. Has anyone at Paramount actually seen this movie? It's hilarious
-- and on purpose, too. This is the first satisfying adult summer
comedy set in New England to come out of Hollywood since "The
Witches of Eastwick" in 1987.
Kidman plays Joanna Eberhart, who leaves Manhattan after she's
fired from her mega-powerful television executive job. The network
wants nothing to do with her once a contestant (Mike White) on
one of her upcoming matrimonial reality series ("I Can Do
Better!") jealously kills his wife and her new lovers. Jobless
and therefore useless, Joanna has a total "nervous collapse"
and heads with her husband (Matthew Broderick) and two kids to
the Connecticut town of Stepford, a vast, perfection-drenched
gated community. There, the plan is for her to stop loving her
career at the expense of her family and get her priorities straight.
Naturally, the cheer and brightness conspire to drive her nuts
all over again.
a line that splits Stepford in half. The schlumpy, nerdy men golf
and wear khakis. The women all look like Jessica Simpson (tan,
pointy, and blond) and do things like caddy in heels and offer
effusively bland compliments. Joanna, who's pale, has an ugly
brown bob, and seems 9 feet tall, is like an alien. She makes
fast friends with best-selling writer and town Jew Bobbie Markowitz,
whom Bette Midler plays with an acid snarl.
the two of them start running around town trying to find out what
goes on at Stepford's men's club, which is run by the typically
insinuating Christopher Walken and is where all the hubbies gather
to smoke cigars and play BattleBots. They're also retooling their
wives into busty mannequins they can operate with remote controls.
a seasoned wit and the author of the Kevin Kline coming-out farce
"In & Out," turns a reupholstering queer eye on
Bryan Forbes's 1975 movie, which tried to wring horror from Katharine
Ross's straight face. The original's mystery was what the men
were up to. This new version takes that for granted and explains
why. It also uses the movie to send up the preposterousness of
everything from white, middle-class privilege and urbanites' cripplingly
uncool move outbound to the suburbs to wholesale misogyny: A husband
inserts an ATM card into the mouth of his femme-bot wife and out
spits cash -- ones, too!
Rudnick specializes in hurling poison darts. Here he throws armloads
of them, and a surprising number hit the board. His Stepford is
a sunny real-world fantasy where powerful, white-collar mommies
go to die in a comic nightmare of housework, baking, and flattery.
They're essentially deprogrammed of their ambition and softened
from corporate mean girls into conciliatory homemakers who love
grocery shopping, Christmas decorations, and floral prints.
by Frank Oz with a mix of flatness and flair, the remake is still
stuck with the original movie's impatient plotting. Bobbie (played
by Paula Prentiss the first time around) is Stepfordized far too
soon. But in a brilliant move, Rudnick throws in a gay couple,
the irreverent half of which is played by the stage actor Roger
Bart. He winds up snooping around with Kidman and Midler. Initially,
pairing him and Midler seems redundant, but Midler plays happy
and dumpy, leaving the brassiness to Bart.
pair seem comfortable co-stealing scenes from their lanky costar.
Kidman, though, is a trouper. In the early New York scenes, her
performance works as a mockery of Faye Dunaway's heartlessness
in "Network" and a sporty remix of Kidman's own work
in "To Die For." Later, she's like a 1960-something
Mia Farrow on growth hormones. Right now, Kidman is having a self-punishing
moment in which she's seen doing a lot of manual labor. She farmed
in "Cold Mountain" and slaved in "Dogville."
Here, she polishes brass and churns out cupcakes. But she at least
seems to enjoy getting icing on her hands.
Speaking of icing, the best thing in the movie is Glenn Close,
who arrives as Walken's wife, Claire, a one-woman welcome wagon
of clenched teeth, tight skin, and WASPy, country-club derangement.
This is Close's battiest part since she played Sunny Von Bulow
and Hamlet's mother Gertrude in the same year, and in the last
reel of this picture, she only gets better.
movies need her -- and Midler, for that matter -- but often don't
know what to do with either of them, or with most grown-ups for
that matter. If a studio can't figure out how to sell light, caustic
entertainment about adults to adults, then maybe turning our loves
into soulless robo-spouses is the least of our worries.
Scan: Sara the Divine Dutchie (Paramount)
Stepford Wives" depends for some of its effect on a plot
secret that you already know, if you've been paying attention
at any time since the original film version was released in 1975.
If you don't know it, stay away from the trailer, which gives
it away. It's an enticing premise, an opening for wicked feminist
satire, but the 1975 movie tilted toward horror instead of comedy.
Now here's a version that tilts the other way, and I like it a
experience is like a new production of a well-known play. The
original suspense has evaporated, and you focus on the adaptation
and acting. Here you can also focus on the new screenplay by Paul
Rudnick, which is rich with zingers. Rudnick, having committed
one of the worst screenplays of modern times ("Isn't She
Great," the Jacqueline Susann story), redeems himself with
barbed one-liners; when one of the community planners says he
used to work for AOL, Joanna asks, "Is that why the women
are so slow?"
Nicole Kidman stars as Joanna Eberhart, a high-powered TV executive
who is fired after the victim of one of her reality shows goes
on a shooting rampage. Her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick)
resigns from the same network, where he worked under her, and
moves with his wife and two children to the gated community of
weird there. The women all seem to be sexy clones of Betty Crocker.
Glenn Close is Claire Wellington, the real-estate agent, greeter
and community cheerleader, and she gives Joanna the creeps (she's
"flight attendant friendly"). Nobody in Stepford seems
to work; they're so rich, they don't need to, and the men hang
out at the Men's Association while the women attend Claire's exercise
sessions. In Stepford, the women the women dress up and wear heels,
even for aerobics (no sweaty gym shorts), and Claire leads them
in pantomimes of domestic chores ("Let's all be washing machines!").
loves it in Stepford. Joanna hates it. She bonds with Bobbie Markowitz
(Bette Midler), author of a best-selling memoir about her mother,
I Love You, But Please Die. Her house is a pigpen. Every other
house in Stepford is spotlessly clean, even though there seem
to be no domestic servants; the wives cheerfully do the housework
themselves. They also improve themselves by attending Claire's
book club. A nice example of Rudnick's wit: When Joanna shares
that she has finished volume two of Robert Caro's biography of
Lyndon Johnson, Claire takes a beat, smiles bravely, and suggests
they read Christmas Keepsakes, and discuss celebrating Jesus'
birthday with yarn.
Walken is Claire's husband and seems to be running Stepford; it's
the kind of creepy role that has Walken written all over it, and
he stars in a Stepford promotional film that showcases another
one of his unctuous explanations of the bizarre. A new touch this
time: Stepford has a gay couple, and Roger (Roger Bart), the "wife,"
is flamboyant to begin with, until overnight, strangely, he becomes
a serious-minded congressional candidate.
going on here? You probably know, but I can't tell you. When Ira
Levin's original novel was published in 1972, feminism was newer,
and his premise satirized the male desire for tame, sexy wives
who did what they were told and never complained. Rudnick and
director Frank Oz don't do anything radical with the original
premise (although they add some post-1972 touches, like the Stepford-style
ATM machine), but they choose comedy over horror, and it's a wise
plays a character who's not a million miles away from her husband-killer
in "To Die For" (1995), even though this time she's
the victim. Bette Midler is defiantly subversive as the town misfit.
And Walken is ... Walken.
movie is surprisingly short, at 93 minutes including end titles
(the 1975 film was 115 minutes long). Maybe it needs to be short.
The secret is obvious fairly early. (A woman goes berserk and
when Walter says she was probably just sick, Joanna says, "Walter,
she was sparking!") It could probably work as a springboard
for heavy-duty social satire, but that's not what audiences expect
from this material, and Rudnick pushes about as far as he can
without tearing the envelope.
movies are based on short stories, some on novels. "The Stepford
Wives" is little more than an anecdote, and like all good
storytellers, Oz and Rudnick don't meander on their way to the
York Daily News
Wicked & witty 2nd 'Wives'
Scan: Sara the Divine Dutchie (Paramount)
Friday, June 11th, 2004
STEPFORD WIVES With Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler, Matthew Broderick,
Christopher Walken. Director: Frank Oz (1:33). PG-13: Mature themes,
Given the state of her celebrity,
it's not surprising to see "The Stepford Wives" referred
to as the "new Nicole Kidman movie."
But, trust me, the star of this overachieving
trifle is not Kidman, it's Paul Rudnick.
New York playwright and screenwriter ("In & Out")
has taken a pair of dated watermarks from the '70s - Ira Levin's
and its faithful 1975 movie adaptation - and turned them into
a broad, feverishly fey parody.
His story follows the general outline
of the book, about a stressed couple who move to a small New England
village populated with geeky men whose once-disagreeable wives
now combine the chief attributes of Daisy Mae, Betty Crocker and
Irma la Douce. Levin's novel was a reaction to the male hysteria
prompted by the feminist movement begun in the '60s. Rudnick's
script is a male fantasy out of Eisenhower's '50s.
Most men have adapted since throwing
their borrowed copy of Betty Friedan's "The Feminine Mystique"
on the floor and stomping on it, which compelled Rudnick to imagine
something even worse than women's equality - women's superiority.
The men of contemporary Stepford
have had their vastly more accomplished wives tamed by implanting
microchips in their brains. Where once was a proud CEO is now
a Barbie doll with great hair and makeup, a passion for housework
and breasts that can be inflated by remote control.
Into this model society, come fired
TV network boss Joanna Eberhardt (Kidman) and Walter (Matthew
Broderick), her milquetoast husband and former network underling.
Though Joanna is recovering from
a nervous breakdown, her can-do instincts quickly kick in when
she gets a gander at the creepy conformity of the other Stepford
The first hour of the movie, in which
Joanna and two other unprocessed Stepford wives gamely try to
assess and assimilate into the new culture, is a riot.
Rudnick has written some of the year's
sharpest comic dialogue for this threesome: Kidman, Bette Midler
as a sassy author who doesn't believe in cleaning house between
moves, and Roger Bart as the femme half of Stepford's first gay
People familiar with Rudnick's Premiere
magazine column, written under the nom de plume Libby Gelman-Waxner,
will recognize every line of Roger's dialogue as his.
This movie is gay as an alternative
St. Patrick's Day parade. I don't know if the jokes will work
out of town, but New Yorkers will love them.
The second act, which deals with
Walter's conversion by the men of Stepford and their guru (Christopher
Walken), sags a bit.
But the movie bounces back, thanks
to a spectacular bit of overacting by Glenn Close as the ultimate
Stepford wife, and ends with an image of grotesquely beautiful
Kidman is too big for this movie.
Literally. She's too tall for Broderick, and her A-list stature
suggests a film more substantial than it is.
She's really outplayed both by Midler,
who is in rare form as the ugly duckling of Stepford, and Bart,
who is hilarious as Rudnick's fashion- and class-conscious alter
The campy delights of The Stepford Wives.
By David Edelstein
Posted Thursday, June 10, 2004
This year's model
fitting that the remake of The Stepford Wives (Paramount) opens
on the national day of mourning for Ronald Reagan, the political
leader who made such hay out of fondly invoking the 1950s—before,
he once said, we knew we had a race problem and all those other
messy social ills. The Ira Levin novel and the subsequent 1975
movie were meant to satirize a patriarchy that would do anything
to bring back the days before wives began to work, talk back,
or, in '70s parlance, self-actualize. I'm not sure if that '50s
never-never land existed (it was at least partly a construct of
the government and entertainment industries). But the longing
for it was real and powerful enough that feminists could take
Levin's outlandish melodrama as a cautionary tale.
always been suspicious of Levin: There's a sadistic sexual component
in his tales of female victimization that cancels out the feminist
thrust and then some. But he was able to get under peoples' skin;
and the original film, pedestrian as it was, became a touchstone.
Suddenly you heard: "Oh, she's such a Stepford Wife …"
Shamed, the so-called domestic goddess had to evolve, finally
embracing as a role model the likes of Martha Stewart, a homemaker
who could also be a corporate titan.
remake is … how can I put this? A desecration? A travesty? Certainly,
it's a slapdash sendup. The writer, Paul Rudnick, appears to have
concluded that since 1974 we've had so many '50s parodies, horror
movies, and even serious deconstructions like Todd Haynes' Far
From Heaven (2002) that only a raving lunatic could long for the
way we supposedly were. This Stepford Wives, directed by Frank
Oz, is not just making fun of '50s nostalgia; it's making fun
of making fun of '50s nostalgia. It says you can't even take those
fantasies seriously enough to critique anymore.
Word of the movie's terribleness began to filter out months ago,
and different endings were reportedly shot and tested. The one
that's there now is from hunger: It's a miracle that the actors
don't turn to the camera and roll their eyes or make little shadow
bunnies. Paramount Pictures has not widely screened it for critics:
It took considerable ingenuity for me even to get into a preview.
And I imagine that audiences who show up this weekend expecting
a genuine thriller with horror overtones will want to throw things
at the screen, or maybe tar and feather the projectionist.
of that being the case, I had a fabulous time. Well, I did once
I accepted that it was a campfest—a great Provincetown drag show
of The Stepford Wives.
Kidman plays the heroine, Joanna Eberhart, a celebrated women's
TV network president who makes reality shows in which men are
gleefully emasculated. When one participant—played by actor/screenwriter
Mike White—flips out and shoots at her at an affiliates' conference,
this destroyer of the nuclear family gets the boot. After her
nervous breakdown, Joanna's husband, Walter (Matthew Broderick,
with a hunched posture that virtually eliminates his neck), buys
a house in Stepford, Conn. Walter has been a vice-president under
his powerhouse spouse and seems to relish the opportunity finally
to take charge—to be the man of the family.
know what Joanna finds: a '50s Disneyland of suburban affluence
in which dumpy men are married to women who dress and act like
'50s garden-party ladies or flight attendants. There's also—and
this is a subversive twist—a gay couple! Yes, the men of Stepford
have no problem sympathizing with the gay "husband's"
inability to control his queeny "wife." The non-robotic
people—Kidman's Joanna, Bette Midler as the defiantly slobby Jewish
author Bobbi Markowitz, and Roger Bart as Roger Bannister, a screamingly
gay architect—form a club and dish about a Stepford wife (played
by singer Faith Hill) who appeared to be short-circuiting at a
scenes are a scream—and I don't even like camp, which long ago
lost its gay bite and merged with pothead '80s irony. It helps
that the actors have such headlong energy. Kidman looks great
with a dark bob, and she has evolved into a fearless comedian:
Watch her receive the news of her firing and maintain her demented
smiling poise while accelerating past a gantlet of well-wishers,
on the verge of spontaneous combustion. Midler is delicious; Bart
(a Broadway stalwart new to movies) has killer one-liners and
zings them into the stratosphere; Glenn Close stops the show as
the town's electrifyingly chirpy den mother; and, as her icily
affable husband, Christopher Walken is in a Method-zombie league
of his own.
is a funny writer—one of the funniest there is—but it must be
said that he's too comfy in his camp little universe: His targets
are obvious, and real emotion seems beyond his reach, at least
in this mode. There are creepy moments all through The Stepford
Wives, but apart from the scene in which Roger Bannister recognizes
his terrible destiny, nothing eats into your mind. And don't expect
logic—dramatic, melodramatic, romantic, or science-fictional—in
the desperate finale. In retrospect, almost nothing in the movie
truth, even its central conceit is dated and unconvincing: These
smiling dolls with long legs and (inflatable) breasts who keep
perfect houses and cook perfect meals and scream with pleasure
in the sack: What man would want that??? OK, maybe for a weekend
… 10 days at the outside…
F. POLS: MOVIE CRITIC
Contra Costa Times
'Stepford' would be less blah with more Bette, Bart
"The Stepford Wives" reportedly had a tough route to
theaters, requiring reshoots very late in production. You can
see signs of that
trouble poking through in places, particularly in the awkward
performances of its leading lady, Nicole Kidman, and her co-star,
Matthew Broderick, as well as in an ending that feels as though
it's been audience tested to death.
there's enough snappy comedy to keep this remake of the 1975 original
afloat, thanks largely to the triple talent of three supporting
actors: Bette Midler, Glenn Close and the far less famous but
very funny Roger Bart.
plays Joanna Eberhart, a cutthroat Manhattan television executive
who loses her job after a cruel reality show she masterminded
causes a contestant to snap and go on a shooting spree. The show
is a trial of marital vows called "I Can Do Better,"
which could have played as parody two years ago, but now simply
sounds like something from the Fox fall schedule. A chastened
Joanna and her neglected husband, Walter (Broderick), a lesser
luminary in the world of television, retreat to the picture-perfect
Connecticut community of Stepford to try to get their lives and
their marriage back on track.
1975 version of "The Stepford Wives," adapted from a
novel by Ira Levin and starring Katharine Ross as a newcomer to
Stepford who was also named Joanna Eberhart, is a curious cultural
icon. Despite having been a critical bust, it lingers today in
the public consciousness to the point where even those who haven't
seen it are likely to know that it involves husbands turning their
wives into glamorous, subservient robots.
for this version, directed by Frank Oz from a screenplay by Paul
Rudnick (who previously teamed with Oz on "In & Out")
and featuring a pastel-clad Faith Hill as a modern-day Stepford
wife with a bustline that expands to suit her husband's fancy.
It doesn't take long for Walter, a dweeby guy who has long resented
the castrating effects of Joanna's success ("I got to hold
your purse," he seethes), to start seeing the benefits of
the Stepford way.
head robot in modern-day Stepford is real estate agent Claire
(Glenn Close), who welcomes Joanna, Walter and their two children
to Stepford in a floral print dress and straw purse straight out
of the 1950s. Claire is married to Mike (Christopher Walken),
head of the ominous Stepford Men's Club. Close, managing to look
imperious even while playing someone under remote control, gives
the movie its first real kick of humor. "Isn't she sassy?"
Claire coos in response to a rude remark from Joanna and Walter's
ultra-urban daughter. Then as her eyebrows arch upward and her
intonation downward, she adds, "And a little sad."
so funny about that line? On the page, not much. But on the screen,
the mixture of Close's delivery and the sense that she's here
to have fun makes it work. Midler and Bart, playing two other
recent transplants to Stepford, a best-selling writer and a gay
architect, respectively, have the same energy. Midler gets laughs
just for bustling around being herself, while Bart hams it up
as a witty Versace-clad queen whose partner wishes he were more
traditional. Prowling around the robot factory, aka the Stepford
Men's Club, with a flashlight, Bart stops at the door into a darkened
room and purrs "I feel like Nancy Drew and the Mystery of
the Midlife Crisis." We love him.
love Kidman, too, although not so much here. She's a fantastic
actress, and comedy is definitely not out of her range, as fans
of "To Die For" are well aware. But she looks vaguely
uncomfortable and insecure throughout "The Stepford Wives,"
as if she's pretty sure she should be somewhere else, working
on acquiring her next Oscar. Meanwhile, Broderick can't get around
the fact that the script can't decide what it wants to do with
Walter. Broderick plays the role with a poker face, and in the
end, we still don't know what to think of him. The movie keeps
trying to make us root for the well-being of Joanna and Walter's
marriage, but we could care less about domestic bliss. What we
want is more Bette, a lot more Roger and another dash of Glenn.
giving anything away, a word on the ending: It's caught midway
between perky and dark. You get the sense that Oz and Rudnick
were told their comedy was too black for test audiences and came
back with something softer, loaded with exposition for the dafter
members of the audience and smelling of an apology for being too
edgy. A chortle-inducing image of Walken and Close should have
sufficed as a closer, but instead, Oz cuts to that great buzz
kill of contemporary movies, the faux interview with Larry King,
to tidy up all remaining loose ends. Now that's something worth
if a new film looked just like a familiar one but something seemed
Say hello to 'The Stepford Wives.'
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle Movie Critic
Friday, June 11, 2004
Stepford Wives: Satire. Starring Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick
and Christopher Walken. Directed by Frank Oz. (PG-13. 90 minutes.
At Bay Area theaters.)
There are movies that have things seriously off about them, that
are conceptually self-defeating, that entangle the filmmakers
like flies in a spider's web and that are simply unfixable and
shouldn't have been made. "The Stepford Wives," the
remake of the 1975 cult classic, is a movie in that category,
but of its kind, it's not that bad. Before it degenerates into
a complete mess, it's an entertaining mess, and something about
its willingness to please maintains the audience's goodwill throughout.
It stars Nicole Kidman, in the role originally played by Katharine
Ross, as a woman who moves with her husband to the upscale community
of Stepford, Conn., and notices something odd about the women.
They act like, well, Stepford wives! They're placid, have glazed
demeanors, perfect homes and gentle expressions, and they wait
on their husbands hand and foot. Obviously, something is wrong
the years since Ira Levin's novel was adapted to the screen, "The
Stepford Wives" -- not the movie, but the concept -- has
become a part of American culture, a reference point in a million
jokes. To redo the film as a period piece would have been too
campy. Yet moving the film to modern times proves dicey as well.
time Joanna (Kidman) is a high-powered TV executive who has just
been fired. In the firing scene, director Frank Oz keeps the camera
right on Kidman as she registers the unthinkable. It's beautiful
comic acting and reminds audiences that Kidman, despite her porcelain
beauty, is a first-rate farceur.
as the film goes on, it becomes clear that Kidman is not right
for the role. Just to play a normal-looking woman, Kidman has
to be coiffed in a severe, dark wig. To make her look anything
less than stunning, she practically needs to be wearing a costume.
Knowing what Kidman really looks like, and knowing the Stepford
beauty aesthetic, we can't help thinking that becoming a Stepford
wife might be a reasonable course for Joanna, or at least her
the movie really wanted to go -- into uproarious comedy -- would
have been better supported by Bette Midler in the Kidman part.
As it stands, she plays Joanna's friend, Bobbie, the author of
self-help books, including one about her mother: "I Love
You but Please Die!" But she's underutilized.
and screenwriter Paul Rudnick establish a broad comic tone in
the opening scenes, but it comes back to bite them, setting a
levelthey can't maintain and leaving them with no room to shift
into a more serious or eerie mode, as the story demands. Satire
is difficult, but at least a satire has the advantage of being
grounded in truth. This new "Wives" is essentially a
satire of a satire; thus it's cut off from any observed reality
or anything like a point of view. It can only be sustained by
the film stays afloat as long as it does is thanks to some hard
paddling by the actors, who seem to have been directed to push
the material, and by Rudnick, who comes up with witty lines and
comic juxtapositions, such as a gay Stepford husband (Roger Bart).
But he can't make us laugh hard enough not to notice that the
transplant is being rejected, namely that of a 30-year- old satire
into a 2004 world.
in 1975, the dark satire of "The Stepford Wives" had
teeth, it's because its message rang true: Many men would have
been ecstatic to be married to a sexually willing robot. But in
2004, there are just not enough men like this to make the movie
work, even as an exaggeration. Can anyone look at the intelligent,
open face of Matthew Broderick, who plays Kidman's husband, and
believe,even for a second, that he'd prefer a placid zombie to
a complicated woman? Could anyone believe he'd even consider it?
It's not possible. We've moved on.
Rudnick can do is make fun of the material, but that means pulling
back and making it safe. It means abandoning all traces of mystery
and menace. It means that Christopher Walken, who might have been
genuinely creepy as the leader of the town's men, is stuck with
a character whose edges are softened. And Glenn Close, as his
wife and partner in crime, is just a fluttery eccentric. By the
middle, the movie has exhausted its effectiveness as an in- joke
and begins to seem like a pointless exercise. This sense is enhanced
when we realize that the movie has even altered the very nature
of the wives themselves, further tilting things in a less sinister
the last half hour, there's nothing to be done, but no one gives
up. The cast gamely keeps delivering the one-liners, though the
movie is in a death spiral.
REVIEW: Kidman, costars turn tragedy into farce in 'The Stepford
University Wire; 6/16/2004; Niels Strandskov
Daily) (U-WIRE) MINNEAPOLIS -- The original 1975 screen version
of "The Stepford Wives" owed much of its creepiness
to Enrique Bravo and Owen Roizman's brilliant cinematography.
The green and pleasant avenues of suburban Connecticut always
look a little out of focus, as though they were obscured by a
in this year's remake, Rob Hahn shoots interiors and exteriors
alike in crisp, vivid colors with sun-drenched lawns balancing
brightly sparkling dream kitchens.
many of its contemporaries in the world of 1970s Hollywood film,
"The Stepford Wives" drew its power from the seemingly
inexhaustible reservoir of bitterness and cynicism that suffused
the national consciousness. After Vietnam, Watergate, assassinations
and embargoes, the movie-watching public was ever-primed for more
graphic evidence of the world's essential wickedness.
idea that upper-middle class men might replace their wives with
chipper fembots could hardly have appeared implausible. However,
there still existed at that time, despite the national "malaise"
that President Jimmy Carter identified, a capacity for disgust.
The washed-out palette of the original "Stepford Wives"
tends to put some distance between the viewer and the all-too-believable
the remake, director Frank Oz begins by assuring us that we are
far too jaded from years of reality TV and similar media product
to ever be really disgusted again. Joanna Eberhard (Nicole Kidman)
is a powerful and somewhat crass network executive who finds herself
jobless and mentally adrift after a disgruntled reality TV victim
crashes her fall line-up presentation.
husband Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick) convinces her that a
move out of Manhattan would be good for her health. Of course,
they wind up in Stepford, where Joanna meets kindred neurotic
urbanite spirits Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler) and Roger Bannister
(Roger Bart). This trio of rebels in paradise suspect that town
power-couple Claire and Mike Wellington (Glenn Close and Christopher
Walken) are up to no good.
the remake imagines this predicament as a ready source of biting
satire, there's rarely a sense that anything horrible is going
on. For instance, Bart's character, the more flamboyant half of
the only gay couple in Stepford, is shown to be just as vulnerable
as any of the wives. But his stereotypical "Queer Eye"
tittering prevents both satire and horror from ever fully gelling
around the three misfits. The original version's ability to make
our skin crawl depended on characters that might have been anyone
we knew, and the nauseating sense of violation attached to the
thought of replacing a woman with a robot merely for convenience
the villains in the new version of "The Stepford Wives"
have a flaw, it's merely their bad taste in housedresses. The
movie leaves no room for its audience to feel angry or violated.
On the contrary, the film's upbeat look and pat ending seem designed
not to provoke the audience out of its complacency, but rather
to mire us further in our predicament, with a little sarcasm thrown
in to lighten the tone. Like the good little robots we've all
become, we'll file out of the theater and back to our Stepford-like
existences, unchallenged, complacent and no wiser.
6/21/2004; Gordon, Devin
Byline: Cathleen McGuigan, Devin Gordon
The Stepford Wives
Directed by Frank Oz
I've been robotized, but I laughed my way through this uneven
comic remake of the 1975 thriller about a leafy suburb where the
women are suspiciously compliant Barbie dolls. Sure, the film
is pretty clunky, but the sendup of the world of McMansions and
SUVs and the one-line zingers from screenwriter Paul Rudnick help
make up for that. Glenn Close, Bette Midler and Roger Bart (who
plays one half of a gay couple slated for Stepfordizing) are hilarious,
and even Nicole Kidman flashes comedic gifts not seen since "To
Bad as They Say?
The Stepford Wives and The Terminal have been tainted with the
smell of turkey. Do they deserve it?
Time; 6/21/2004; Corliss, Richard
Byline: Richard Corliss
used to be said that Hollywood was the art of the deal. Now Hollywood
is the biz of the buzz. Buzz is the murmur that precedes a film's
release; it usually starts in a studio's publicity department.
But good buzz can turn bad when outsiders see the film and start
dishing. (The outsiders are almost never critics. We've been out
of the power equation for ages.) Tabloid headlines play a role
too. When the stars are Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez and the
film is Gigli, the anticipatory mood can quickly sour from must-see
buzz has recently hit the summer's big grownup drama, Steven Spielberg's
The Terminal, and the big grownup comedy, The Stepford Wives.
Stepford endured lots of rewriting, reshooting and trimming to
a terse 93 min. In other words, the film--a remake of the 1975
thriller about "perfect" suburban women who turn out
to be robots--underwent the same radical makeover, the same behavioral
modification, as the wives of Stepford. And with the same goal:
to make it prettier and more pleasing. As for the Spielberg film,
in early June the Internet cinephile site Ain't It Cool News blared
the headline IS THE TERMINAL RESHOOTING ITS ENDING RIGHT NOW?!
and noted that some industry screenings had been canceled.
would seem to be no downside to a film directed by Mr. All-Time
Box Office Champ and starring Tom Hanks, who has often turned
iffy projects (like Forrest Gump) into smash hits. The 10 films
Hanks starred in before this year each grossed more than $100
million at the North American wickets. He faltered only with this
spring's The Ladykillers, and that one doesn't count. (Making
a film with indie icons like the Coen brothers--or with Charlie
Kaufman, as Jim Carrey did for the similarly low-grossing Eternal
Sunshine of the Spotless Mind--is considered image-polishing pro
bono work for a big star, like an off-Broadway stint or a benefit
The Terminal, Viktor Navorski (Hanks) arrives at a New York City
airport on a flight from his native land, Krakozhia. The country
has just suffered a coup, and until the U.S. recognizes a legitimate
regime, he can't go into the city or back home. (It's not explained
why many others on his flight wouldn't be in the same predicament.)
So Viktor is under airport arrest; to find food, work, a place
to sleep and a woman to love, he must rely on his own resources.
Which are considerable. This is, after all, a Spielberg movie
(Viktor is E.T., the sweet alien who wants to fulfill his mission
and go home) and a Hanks film (Viktor is the castaway, one man
in a strange environment, making do with what's available).
surprise about The Terminal is not that it got bad buzz but that
it's a bad film. Several bad films, actually. First it's a comedy
of desperation, with lots of sight gags (a machine that spits
quarters in Viktor's face, too many people slipping on a wet floor)
in the style of French comic actor-director Jacques Tati. Then
it's a love story, as Viktor romances a flight attendant (Catherine
Zeta-Jones). Finally the uplifting and heart tugging kick in.
The Terminal is Spielberg's shortest feature since the first Jurassic
Park, yet it drags, plods, piling one lifeless situation atop
another. For all the effort and good intentions, the movie is
the case of Buzz v. Stepford, yes, the movie is a little messy.
But that's forgivable, since it has a wonderfully wounding malice
directed at both the Stepford, Conn., contingent of Energizer
Bunny wives and the New Yorkers who have just moved in. Joanna
Eberhart (Nicole Kidman), a just-fired network boss, wears black
to the town's July 4 picnic. "Only high-powered castrating
Manhattan bitches wear black," she is told. "Is that
what you wanted to be?" Her demure reply: "Ever since
I was a little girl."
the bitchy wit to screenwriter Paul Rudnick, the knowing tone
to director Frank Oz and the cluttered ending to the focus groups.
The snazzy cast--including Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler and,
as the makeover masterminds who have "top-secret contracts
with the Pentagon, Apple and Mattel," Glenn Close and Christopher
Walken--really sinks its fangs into Rudnick's poisoned apple.
the time you read this, The Stepford Wives may have been deemed
a box-office failure. But that shouldn't matter to people who
want a film full of smart laughs. Maybe big giggles can drown
out bad buzz.
February 9, 2006
Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Christopher
Walken, Kadee Strickland
the Gender Wars still be raging? Apparently so. But their generals,
not to mention the battles they fight, don’t seem to have nearly
the same bite as they used to. I mean, is it really a shock nowadays
to see a female network TV executive shilling misanthropic, sexed-up
reality shows at an affiliates convention? Please. With her slicked
back brown ’do and steely tenacity, Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman)
looks and acts every bit the shark that she should – and why not?
Faye Dunaway blazed that trail almost thirty years ago in "Network".
You haven’t really come a long way, baby.
the naturalistic, soft-focused horror portrayed in the original
film, Oz has recast Ira Levin’s cautionary tale "The Stepford
Wives" as a light-hearted comic satire, a gently stinging
backlash to the backlash. It makes sense. Like the coming-out
romp "In and Out", the “controversial” previous collaboration
of Oz and Rudnick, this makes you wonder why it’s taken so long
to finally spread the word. Guess what? Real women and men don’t
fit neatly into suffocating, gender-stereotyped boxes. Ah, Hollywood.
Always so dependably behind the cultural curve.
it seems, at first glance, that the latest screen incarnation
of Stepford tries to be edgy and fails. And to an extent, it does.
But what director Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick get right
is the new rationale for turning flesh-and-blood beings into brain-dead,
subservient sex kittens: These women are better then their men
at everything, and that freaks the men out.
opens as Joanna is forced into early retirement by a homicidal
nut (Mike White) whose wife left him in the “I Can Do Better”
reality pilot. (“Let’s kill all the women!” he yells, whipping
out a gun in front of 2,000 conventioneers. Not funny.) He doesn’t
actually hurt anybody, but the bad publicity makes Joanna a necessary
fall guy. Her husband Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick), a vice
president at the same network, quits his job in protest, and the
couple decides to move out of Manhattan with their two children
to try and patch up Joanna’s sanity and their failing marriage.
snap up a ridiculously palatial estate in the gated community
of Stepford, Connecticut, which seems to contain nothing but ridiculously
palatial estates. Walter immediately falls in love with the town
– its manicured lawns, gorgeous, impeccably polite women, and
stately men’s club – but Joanna is suspicious. (Oz lays the Stepford
shtick on so early and so strong, in fact, it’s almost impossible
to believe that Joanna would have stuck around past the first
weekend.) The ordinarily meek Walter starts to get bossy. He even
orders her to give up her city wardrobe of basic black. “Only
high-powered, castrating New York career bitches wear black. Is
that what you want to be?” he asks. “Ever since I was a little
girl,” she purrs guilelessly.
for Joanna, she’s not the only recent Manhattan transplant. She
immediately bonds with two other Stepford misfits who smell a
rat: nebbishy author Bobbie Markowitz (she’s just like Fran Lebowitz,
only…Bette Midler!) and tres fey architect Roger Bannister (Roger
Bart). Both Bobbie and Roger embrace their inner clichés
– she’s an overweight, hippie slob who hates men, he’s a Dolce
and Gabbana-loving queen – but their sense of selves and humor
keep them from becoming caricatures. (This is one of the wonderful
ironies of the movie: the stereotypical characters are the ones
with the humanity.) It doesn’t take long for the three of them
to stumble on the evil plot of town Svengali Mike Wellington (Christopher
Walken) to turn the women into robotic cyborgs with will-sapping
brain implants. But for Bobbie and Roger (Stepford’s first he-wife),
the realization comes too late. Joanna is left to fend for herself
in what could only be described as a gothic sanatorium surrounded
by a white picket electrified fence.
you were trying to become men, we became gods,” Wellington tells
Joanna during the movie’s shadowy climax. I won’t give away the
final irony, but suffice it to say even gods sometimes get their
strings pulled. This Stepford Wives isn’t nearly as scary as the
1975 version in the thriller/horror genre sense. But it is scary
in a whole different way. You get the feeling that there are plenty
of “guys’ guys” out there who agree with Wellington’s sentiments.
Sadly, it probably takes something as unsubtle as this production
to get through to that kind of mind.
again, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with broad – these broads
especially. Looking like Glinda the Good Witch assaulted by a
child’s Easter basket, Glenn Close throws herself body and soul
into her role as Wellington’s doting wife Claire, and it’s nice
to see the ordinarily grace-incarnate Kidman thrust into the role
of town schlub (although, next to Midler, she could easily still
pass for Moulin Rouge’s Satine). Broderick, however, suffers by
comparison to any of them. He seems to have less and less to offer
with every movie; the beadier his eyes get and the paunchier his
middle, the more Ferris Bueller seems so depressingly middle age
– body and soul. If you ask me, Joanna Eberhart could do better.