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The Stepford Wives (2004)

Reviewed on 2007 January 23

There’s a reason I usually avoid remakes of classic movies. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Exhibit A! The original Stepford Wives was a nice, dark ’70s movie based on Ira Levin’s novel. By trying to turn the thing into a dark comedy, Frank Oz took a creepy premise and neutered it. It would have been kinder if he’d taken the movie out to a nice sunny spot and put it out of its misery with a bullet.

Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is a hot-shot television producer who’s canned after a string of reality shows that make Jerry Springer look like Masterpiece Theater. Wanting a fresh start, she moves from Manhattan to Stepford, Connecticut, with her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) and their two snotlings Peter and Kim (Dylan Hartigan and Fallon Brooking). Stepford is odd from the beginning. They’re welcomed by Claire Wellington (Glenn Close), a scarily happy woman who fawns over the rude kids while gushing over the family’s new house. Joanna realizes all the women of Stepford act like they eat Valium-Os for breakfast and dress like models from a 1950s cookbook. She learns that after a hard day of housework and bringing their men beer, the ladies like to unwind at the spa, where they exercise in heels to inane disco music.

The men get a better deal. They get to hang out with Claire’s dapper husband Mike (Christopher Walken) at the Stepford Men’s Association, a bloated castle that looks kind of like a frat house if Bob Guccione had built it. Everything is just… strange, and Joanna is unhappy, but Walter kinda likes it. He likes the slower-paced life, he likes their spiffy new house, and he likes the sweet, docile women in their pretty dresses. He encourages Joanna to ditch those chic New York black clothes and try to fit in. Joanna dons some pastels and tries to bake muffins, but she just doesn’t quite blend. Neither does her abrasive newcomer friend Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler), an author who prefers Deep Purple t-shirts to sundresses. Perhaps they need help adjusting. Perhaps their husbands will help.

The original movie had suspense and subtlety, whereas this thing is so obvious that it doesn’t work as a thriller. I could deal with that but it doesn’t work as a comedy, either. Not only were most of the jokes not funny, but they were predictable. There were a few good bits — Midler was a riot at the Christmas book club, and my favorite line was at the square dance scene. The houses were good too; Stepford really looked a suburbahell where someone would measure your lawn with a ruler. That’s not enough to salvage this, and it’s confusing. Oz is funny enough to give us the Muppets, and the cast is a fleet of excellent actors. What happened?

Bad movie! No morsel for you!

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