the Thinking Chicks Guide to Movies

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Stepmom (1998)

Reviewed on 2008 November 18

Annoying, cloying smarmfest that makes my pancreas want to chew tobacco. Smugly precocious kids, a decent everyman sort of daddy, a new woman trying to live with them, and a snarky, snotty übermommy hovering over the whole thing. Neither the slickness of the thing nor the admittedly good acting made it easier to watch.

Isabel Kelly (Julia Roberts) is in the unenviable position of being the new woman in the Harrison family. Luke Harrison (Ed Harris) just gave her a ring, and she accepts. All I can say is Luke must have more skills than we see in the 124-minute run time, because Isabel doesn’t run away screaming from the rest of the family. She also gets to be stepmother to his two children, the lippy Anna (Jena Malone) and her little brother Ben (Liam Aiken). Even though Isabel came along well after Luke split with their mother and that’s not her fault, they cheerfully do everything they can to let her know she is Not Welcome.

But the worst of all is Luke’s ex-wife Jackie (Susan Sarandon), the momma bear. I’ll be the first to admit Isabel may be flaky, but I think Jackie would have found faults with Mary freaking Poppins. She even encourages the children, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, to give Isabel a hard time. Later we find out why Jackie is the way she is, but that’s too late, because by that time I didn’t give a crap.

Stepmom kind of painted itself into a corner. The women either had to work things out, or step into the octagon with one emerging, and as I write that I wonder if that wouldn’t have made a more entertaining flick. A movie like this needs likable characters to work, and this thing was no exception. While I can’t imagine what Jackie was going through, it didn’t help; I still wanted to slap the crap out of her and her snotwad daughter. I could understand all the venom if Isabel had been the one to separate Jackie and Luke, but she wasn’t. And the heart-tugging quota they saddled this thing with was barf-worthy. Family sing-a-longs? Dream dates? Do a lot of Hollywood executives sit around rolling spliffs and trying to imagine what normal families are like? Oh, right, they probably do.

One chocolate morsel, and I’m being generous here.



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