The Stepford Wives

Quirky retro robot shenanigans. Not as good as Robotron, though.

Released in 2004, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 19 Aug 2004 by Scott Morris
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I wanted to hate the Stepford wives, I really did. With an insufferable trailer seemingly based on the notion that containing Nicole Kidman is reason enough to pony up the dough to go see, it would seem to be merely the latest in a long line of barrel scraping remakes. the crew here at theOneliner towers had much the same reaction to Down With Love, and just as Ewan McGregor stuffed my size 9's down my throat then Kidman initiates a similar foot / mouth interface scenario now.

After losing her job as high flying network chief following a vaguely satirical take on tellys increasingly unreal reality shows, Joanna Eberhard (Kidman) has a complete nervous breakdown prompting loving husband Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick) to up the families sticks to the sleepy enclosed community of Stepford, where the kitsch of the fifties lives on.

A small warning, if you're under the illusion that this is in some way a completely novel cinematic experience this may come as a spoiler, but seeing as its the point of the film I think we can get away with it. The ghastly nerds that comprise the male community of Stepford all appear to have the perfect partners, by the fifties housework obsessed, smile and try not to have an opinion metric at least. Ringleader of the permagrinned clan is Claire Wellington (Glenn Close [shudder]), driving force behind the bake sales and line dancing that so plague the town. while the women are busy baking or keeping fit with close's self designed housework based workout routines, the men depart to their club on the hill to play video games and homebrew robot wars under the watchful eye of Mike Wellington (the ever value for money Christopher Walken).

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There may seem to be something awry here, to Kidman at least. Enlisting the help of her friends and seemingly the last normal people in Stepford, the slobbish author Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler) and Roger (Roger Bart), a man so fabulously camp as to make Graham Norton seem butch, they discover that the soulless smiles of the vacuous women come from an unexpected procedure. Well, unexpected if you haven't read the book or seen the last cinematic outing at some prior date.

I wanted to despise this film, truly I did. While the trailer was no doubt irritating, more galling was it continuing an unwelcome Hollywood trend - the superfluous remake. Imagine my disappointment on realising that after a shaky opening quarter of an hour, Frank 'Fozzie Bear' Oz starts shovelling eventually charming overdoses of kitsch and sharply observed oneliners in your direction that it would take a committed curmudgeon not to be overwhelmed by it.

Kidman is awful. No bones about it, the first interminable fifteen minutes at very Nicole-centric and laughable for the wrong reasons, although I can't altogether rule out the possibility that she's being intentionally inept for dramatic or not-particularly-comic effect. Anyhow this is a minor quibble, as the supporting cast firmly step up to the plate and in large part make the film enjoyable more than its supposed marquee star. Broderick is the kind of actor it's nigh on impossible to hate, always seeming so damn affable that we overlook the fact he hasn't done anything that comes close to being a good film since WarGames and the seminal Ferris Bueller's Day Off. For once the onscreen amiability dovetails perfectly with his character, which is vital for the husband / wife dynamic that the film's narrative centres around. Without Broderick, although his character at times seems to be demoted to second tier supporting status, this film simply wouldn't work so kudos is deserved and given.

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When the biggest disappointment in a movie stems from the absence of the seemingly contractually obligated Bizarre Chris Walken Rant? (witness the Tooth Fairy monologue in the under appreciated Welcome to the Jungle) it's probably on to a winner. When a movie can contain the unholy trifecta of Kidman, Middler and Close and still keep me sitting in front of it without projectile vomiting, it's certainly on to a winner.

If there's hole to be booted in The Stepford Wives they're really much the same ones from Down with Love. There's a continual sense that the film is rather...smug about how clever and ironic it is. Deliberately going for a clich?d view of fifties fashions and habits rules out cliche as a negative point about it, and gives it a degree of bulletproofing when you point out that simply having an outrageously stereotyped flamboyant gay character for cheap laughs (and the slightest updating of the film, I suppose) isn't exactly high art the film makers can simply say 'Oooh, we were being ironic'. This kind of niggling is really only necessary if the film isn't much good, as seeing as The Stepford Wives remains pretty amusing throughout, Kidman's gurning aside, I think we'll let it slide.

In the current cinematic climate still dominated by blockbusting action affairs, this provides a welcome slice of light entertainment that doesn't involve watching Will Smith diving around with two handguns and a shirt flapping in the breeze. Hardly revolutionary filmmaking, in fact hardly necessary filmmaking, but enjoyable and entertaining enough to allow it safe passage through its own sea of mild narcissism. An enjoyable and unchallenging affair, and sometimes that's all that's needed.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Cast list:
Nicole Kidman (Joanna Eberhard)
Matthew Broderick (Walter Kresby)
Bette Midler (Bobbie Markowitz)
Glenn Close (Claire Wellington)
Christopher Walken (Mike Wellington)
Roger Bart (Roger Bannister)
David Marshall Grant (Jerry Harmon)
Jon Lovitz (Dave Markowitz)