Main cast: 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), and Faith Hill (Sarah Sunderson)
Director: Frank Oz
Someone has a bright idea of turning a 1975 sci-fi/horror movie into a comedy for the 2004 update. Maybe it’s just me but I have never found the original movie satirical or thought-provoking in any way, as it just takes a legitimate issue women in the workforce face and exploit it in a rather unrealistic premise. The premise here being that men want their wives not just to be less successful and continuously devoted to just making the men happy, but they also want these women to be giggly, giddy cheerleaders obsessed with sparkly tiaras, aprons, Christmas, and mops. Won’t it be more logical for these men to program their wives to be stripper lipstick lesbian Barbie dolls with huge, huge bosoms that prefer leather get-ups to 1960s housewife outfits?
At least the much derided twist in the updated The Stepford Wives makes sense when it comes to the genesis of these bizarre housewives, but one has to question just what kind of husbands would prefer these walking, talking Housekeeping Cheerleader Barbie dolls to, say, Wet T-Shirt Teenage Cheerleader Barbie.
This movie revolves around a troubled married couple Joanna Eberhard and Walter Kresby moving into the cheerful Connecticut community of Stepford with their two children to try and salvage their unhappy lives. Joanna, a TV executive, is fired after she is fired at by a furious participant in one of her many trashy female-superiority reality TV shows. She is burned out and high-strung, but she’s willing to give the la-la-la environment of Stepford a try. She befriends fellow newcomers Bobbie Markowitz, a novelist, and Roger Bannister, the more effeminate partner in the only gay couple in Stepford. But when she discovers a sinister secret behind the uniformed apronned perkiness of the wives in this community, she has to fight not just for her family but also for her life.
Glenn Close manages to elicit a few laughs as the leader of the Stepford wives while Nicole Kidman does a decent job in a one-note role. Matthew Broderick plays the nice guy like he did in nearly every one of his post-Ferris Bueller movies. Bette Midler is, well, Bette Midler, Jon Lovitz is Jon Lovitz, and ditto with Christopher Walken – these three aren’t playing characters as much as they are playing themselves as per how they are typecast in very nearly everything they are in these days.
But at the same time it is difficult to imagine that a uniformly WASP Republican bunch like the Stepford folks will accept a Jewish or a gay couple among them. Likewise, the movie has, apart from Mr Walken’s role, the husbands portrayed as short, rotund, or uncharismatic men that are jealous of their successful wives. It is hard to take anything this movie has to say seriously when it tries so often to play for cheap laughs using unimaginative stereotypes. The final scene succeeds in dumbing down entirely everything this movie half-heartedly tries to say on social and gender norms into a miserable punchline.
Laughs are few in this movie and if it is trying to be satirical, it fails to do so thanks to its unrealistic and cartoonish depictions of the gender wars. There are some amusing zingers aimed at AOL and Connecticut in general, but on the whole, The Stepford Wives actually comes off like a movie that is made by, well, the Stepford wives themselves – too bright, too cartoonish, too optimistic, fakes everything, and completely devoid of substance. And unlike those wives, it doesn’t even offer me a beer when I’m done. How thoughtless!