Its always tricky to
remake a movie from the past, particularly a movie that has been extremely
influential. Late movie critic Gene Siskel used to always say that there
was no reason in the world to remake a good film, if you are going to remake
a film take a bad one and make it better. In this originality-challenged
era of Hollywood, the studios are trying to put a new coat of paint on every
old title they can, not trying to fix a missed opportunity but to take
advantage of brand names. This summer alone three films I loved (this film,
Longest Yard and particularly
The Manchurian Candidate)
regurgitated and it is worrying me to no end that they are going to ruin
them. This is the first of the three that Ive seen, and it is not
reassuring me all that much.
thing the studios have going in their favor here is that
The Stepford Wives
has actually reached a very odd place in the pop culture zeitgeist. It
captured a moment and unique idea so brilliantly that everyone knows about
it. It even created its own slang; if you mention the term Stepford wife
to someone they will most likely know what you are talking about. And yet,
Id be willing to bet that the great majority of people out there have never
seen the original film.
Well I have seen the 1975 version starring Katharine Ross and Paula
Prentiss. In fact, Ive seen it several times over the years. While it was
far from a perfect film, it was a very effective mix of humor, social
commentary and thrills. I have also read the novel that it was based on
written by Ira Levin (Rosemarys
Baby), and that
pretty close to perfect.
thing that I worried about right off the bat is that the new
was conceived as a comic version of the first film. This completely
overlooks the fact that in many ways it was always a comedy. A very, very
dark comedy, granted, but much of the story was absurdly funny. It sort of
worried me that the people conceiving the film had overlooked
(or ignored) this rather
the plus side, they put together a terrific cast. Nicole Kidman seems to be
an ideal choice for the lead, and Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler,
Christopher Walken and Glenn Close are a pretty impressive supporting cast.
Paul Rudnick is a very funny
if slightly flamboyantly snarky
as a screenwriter
(In & Out, Addams Family Values)
and as a critic (in his Premiere
magazine alter-ego Libby Gelman
Waxler.) Director Frank Oz (a.k.a. the voice of Miss Piggy and Yoda) has
been a pretty underrated comic filmmaker over the years
(Bowfinger, In & Out, Dirty Rotten
Scoundrels, What About Bob?, Little Shop of Horrors).
the first hour or so,
The Stepford Wives
almost works on its own terms. It is a pastel
colored, fast-talking, tres stylish goof. It doesnt take itself
or its source material seriously and so we
dont either. There are some very funny lines sprinkled throughout. The
film has a very gay sensibility, every line by every character sounds
not so much like dialogue, but like Rudnick trying to snap the
intricate narrative up. Its no
coincidence that the character of Stepfords first homosexual male wife
gets many of the best lines. Rudnick is most comfortable writing the kind
of catty, oh-so-clever lines that you used to see in
Sex & the City.
What he isnt comfortable with is telling a complicated story. The
screenplay just throws things at the wall and hopes it will stick. For
example, unlike the original films turning women into robots, Rudnick came
up with the more technically current idea of having the womens brains
implanted with microchips to control them. Great
idea, nice update, but... Kidmans character sees a robot of herself, as does (we are led to
believe) the gay man. In other scenes, we see the
women of Stepford used as an ATM machine or have their breasts enlarged by
remote control. So what is it? Real women with microchips or
robots? How is it possible that the filmmakers forgot the
rules they set themselves? In fact, most of Rudnicks updates just dont work.
Instead of the women of Stepford being anonymous housewives, all the women
of the new Stepford are high profile professionals
doctors, television executives, business CEOs. It is hard to believe such
women could disappear into Connecticut domesticity without anyone noticing
Still, with all its problems, I was okay with
The Stepford Wives
up until about an hour fifteen minutes in. I didnt love it, didnt hate
it. However, towards the end the film tacks on a stunningly misjudged
revisionist happy ending. And it is awful. It sucks. It is a travesty.
It took whatever positive feelings I had been able to muster up for the film
and destroys them. It is the worst new
ending for an old story idea since Hester Prynne
and Reverend Dimmesdale
lived happily ever after in the 1995 Demi
Moore/Gary Oldman version of The
Scarlet Letter. I can only
assume that the wholesale changes were due to focus groups and studio
meddling, I find it hard to believe that savvy talents like Rudnick and Oz
really could be that totally deluded to believe that it
worked as a storyline. However, because of this ending, a
movie that I was going to give a lukewarm review to will instead get a
scathing evaluation. Rent the original film. Better yet, read the book.
Don't bother with this version of the movie.
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Posted: June 19, 2004.