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Stepford Wives, The (2004)
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by Josh Gryniewicz

"More like, ‘Revenge of the Nerds: Empire of June Cleaver’"
1 stars

Frank Oz’s "Stepford Wives" remake would have been no less significant, yet far more entertaining, if he had used his beloved Muppets in the feature roles with Miss Piggy as Joanna Eberhard and Kermit as the spineless Walter Kresby.

Since its 1975 release "The Stepford Wives" have sunk so deep into our collective societal consciousness they have almost become an adjective. My mom used to wield it like a brand for any anti-feminist ideas; a friend used to grumble it under his breath whenever he was frustrated with his wife; mention the title and even people who haven’t seen the film understand its meaning, usually with a shudder.

Based on a book by Ira Levin, author of "Rosemary’s Baby", "The Stepford Wives" was as profoundly progressive as it was creepy. Penned in 1972, the same year Congress finally got around to passing the Equal Rights Amendment assuring rights for women, the science fiction thriller centered on a small Connecticut town where all too perfect wives were part the town’s strange and sinister plot. The story plied the perfect wife as robot motif as a frighteningly suspenseful plot device and a politically charged metaphor. It challenged the prevailing social attitude that, not only was a women’s place in the kitchen (preferably barefoot and pregnant) but also, that she was regarded as no more a part of the household than any other appliance.

In a year when attacks on women’s rights are the most overt they’ve been in years with an all-out assault on Roe v. Wade and at the heels of a million strong "March for Women’s Lives" the release of Frank Oz’s "Stepford Wives" is politically well timed. Its timing ripe for a re-envisioned variation of the story, but all that it delivers is politically correct camp, well-worn gender jokes and what seems to be some kind of love story.

The film opens with Joanna Eberhard (Nicole Kidman) a Manhattan exec for an all-reality TV network whose line-up smacks too much of FOX to be effective satire, introducing the coming season to an audience of affiliates. Immediately the 2004 "Stepford" spin is set in motion, the clips demonstrating passively pathetic men and overly aggressive women in what Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick seem to imply is the modern portrayal of gender role relationships.

Granted there is a screwball component to all of this, but satire is an exaggeration of social phenomena and this is clearly what is being exaggerated. A jaded former contestant materializes from the audience and makes an attempt on her life setting off a chain of events that put the plot in motion. Joanna’s shows are dropped for fear of controversy (if only such an event would happen to Rupert Murdoch) she suffers a nervous breakdown and her family relocates to Stepford in an attempt to save her failing marriage to Walter (Matthew Brodriek).

Stepford seems the idyllic place to recover from a nervous breakdown and fix a marriage with its meticulously manicured lawns, sprawling mansions, quaint natural surroundings and state-of-the-art modern conveniences including a refrigerator that inventories food and a robotic dog. It is an environment composed of traditional values, town’s fairs and square dancing. In Stepford, men are cigar munching, Brandy sipping men’s men and women are Playboy centerfold bombshells with a Martha Stewart sense of décor and an affinity for pinecones and vibrant floral dresses. This is all too “perfect” and of course, anyone who has ever caught an episode of "Outer Limits" knows what’s a foot.

Joanna teams up with stereotypically eccentric political author, Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler) and the flamboyant Roger Bannister (Roger Bart) to unravel a mystery so trite not even Scooby & the gang would touch it; reducing the original film’s mystery to the case of the ditzy, sex-kitten blondes. Meanwhile, husbands Kresby and Dave Markowitz (Jon Lovitz) are introduced by Mike Wellington (Christopher Walken) and his band geeks to the secrets of high-tech misogyny that grows more obnoxious with each scene.

If the politics of "Stepford" version 2K4 are sloppy the science fiction is even worse. I apologize if the following reads in the nasally drone of a card-carrying sci-fi geek, but what the hell are the Stepford wives supposed to be? Are they femme bots? Sex borgs? Cyber women? The movie is lazy about the technology of its focal metaphor – through most of the film they are remote controlled women with neural implants, yet, when it is visually striking to do so, Joanna is confronted with a synthetic version of herself. Later, however, all of this is abandoned when it seems more conducive to imply they are full-bodied robots. These inconsistencies make it clear neither Oz nor Rudnick cared about the story they were telling.

Ironically, in spite of the film’s pure schlock value, there are some great performances. Nicole Kidman has an already proven talent for shining in otherwise unendurable films "Batman Forever" (1995), "The Peacemaker" (1997), "Practical Magic" (1998), "The Birthday Girl"(2001) and offers an elegance rare among today’s pop-celebrities in her genuine roles. Here, her robotic subtleties and emotionless affect as the Manhattan exec are executed flawlessly, but are unfortunately one of the films many abandoned themes. Glenn Close as Claire Wellington, the manic matriarch of the Stepford women, is equally incredible in her role – displaying a range of cartoon like expressions that offer more comedic effect than most of the stale one-liners. Bette Midler and Roger Bart both manage to stretch out paltry stereotyped characters into something actually enjoyable to watch. Matthew Broderick, on the other hand, delivered a generic role as his self-consciously emasculated character. Christopher Walken, who managed to pull off the only funny performance in the painfully embarrassing "Joe Dirt" (2001), seemed all too aware of this films shortcomings to have fun with the role.

"The Stepford Wives" 2004 is the most recent casualty in the 70’s – era – creativity – harvesting, like the recent bastardization of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (2003) it washes all free all the politically charged merit leaving only a superficial shell of a film. While the 2004 "Dawn of the Dead" managed to coast on the coattails of Romero’s hyper-exaggerated anti-consumer metaphor it trimmed its class consciousness to a minimum to make room for a very different kind of movie (its only saving grace).

There are elements in this "Stepford" that if fully explored could have complimented the original. Roger’s character is ill at ease with his Republican boyfriend, but at a time when gay rights are crashing against the Christian right in the form of a proposed Constitutional amendment, the aspect is trivialized to a punch line ("A gay Republican is like a gay with a bad haircut.") Even more so, while forces are trying to turn back the clock on women’s liberation, all Oz and Rudnick offer is a love story with the moral don’t turn your spouse into an android.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=10009&reviewer=362
originally posted: 06/26/04 18:10:50
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User Comments

8/05/08 Screwball It was okay for a sunday afternoon 3 stars
8/23/07 Matt Forgettable fluff with a few amusing moments. Wait for it on TV. 3 stars
2/16/07 Vip Ebriega Really funny parody of a classic tale of horror. 4 stars
11/10/06 David Pollastrini boring, dull, etc. 1 stars
10/08/06 isis ok... 3 stars
6/07/06 Peggy Doty GOOD REMAKE OF AN OLD MOVIE 4 stars
5/21/06 Diane P very very bad and disappointing 2 stars
11/21/05 Kurtis J. Beard Atrocious. Walken is even bad. Didn't see that coming. 1 stars
10/26/05 deadwiz I found it quite funny. Nothing special though. 3 stars
10/19/05 odditie Survivable 3 stars
10/18/05 the untrained eye At least the original had Katherine Ross' boobies. 1 stars
8/25/05 Nick Worst movie ever! Are they robots or implant victims? Why was there a Nicole Kidman Robot? 1 stars
4/30/05 alice stupid, boring, loved the first one this one sucks 1 stars
1/12/05 Tom Benton A brainless and simple remake that can be enjoyable. 3 stars
11/14/04 Gabby Why why why why? What's the point? What a waste of celuloid! 1 stars
10/23/04 R Smith Film should have attacked bullies and wife beaters. 1 stars
9/26/04 alicia to put it eloquently: it sucked 1 stars
9/09/04 farwonth Maybe one or two laughs, the rest ...what the f#$% 2 stars
9/08/04 Gary Newton technicolour battle of the sexes,well acted but just a tad cheesy 3 stars
9/07/04 Wes Luther C'mon valerie hart. This could put an end to one's being a fan of Nicole! 1 stars
8/31/04 Wanda Ruhr Needed Ashley Judd in it. Then we'd have been warned that it is atrocious. 1 stars
8/29/04 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne C'mon K Man, WATERWORLD is a masterpiece compared to this braindead harpy vomit! 1 stars
8/27/04 K Man just as shi--y as Waterworld 1 stars
8/26/04 Maureen McDevitt It had some pretty funny lines... but totally missed the point of the original. 3 stars
8/24/04 Millie Maelstrom Insults men, women, Christians, Jews alike. Blames victims. Real harpy turd of a movie! 1 stars
8/15/04 McGraw Bad, bad, bad...a totall mess of a film. 1 stars
8/07/04 Alien assassin Don't you dare do this to "Westworld", Mr. Oz !!! 1 stars
8/01/04 valerie hart wotch it for nicole if ur a fan of hers uwill luv the film if not its to light hearted 4 stars
8/01/04 Daniel Roemer This movie is wonderful and the ending is even better 5 stars
7/25/04 My Two Cents Very funny black comedy. But too short. Could have accom a few more scenes. 4 stars
7/23/04 Sandy Turynowicz confusing & not to good 2 stars
7/17/04 legend Where to being with this awful film...umm..a fire would be nice. Save your money. 1 stars
7/14/04 crystal Dood, Nicole Kidman... 5 stars
7/11/04 sd Such promise, such a mess. Set designers can hold head up, however. 2 stars
7/08/04 J Cadiramen Watch it for Nicole, and enjoy Bette to boot! A hoot! 5 stars
7/03/04 Carly I think this movie was way better than the first and Nicole Kidman is an amzing actress. 4 stars
6/27/04 Deanna Schlocky but so was the original movie. Message: we've gone to far to go back now. 4 stars
6/19/04 SF Glenn Close is the only thing worth watching. 3 stars
6/18/04 Carrielle I thought it wasthe best of the summer it ROCKED!!! 5 stars
6/18/04 Gray not one positive straight male is shown fuck this flick! 1 stars
6/18/04 Emily i didn't like it 2 stars
6/17/04 Ryan Nice 4 stars
6/17/04 Unanon My only funny theatre experience here was a lost toddler calling for her mommy. Seriously. 2 stars
6/15/04 Lola Awesome story Line but this remake was pathetic. It was pretentious and un-funny. 1 stars
6/15/04 Boyinthedesignerbubble The new cast was good, but the original was still far better. 3 stars
6/15/04 Marce It was light, fluffy and entertaining; extactly what it aimed to be and nothing more. 4 stars
6/14/04 Rex if you've seen the trailer, you've seen the movie 1 stars
6/14/04 Norm Hilarious!! 4 stars
6/14/04 roy Worthless 2 stars
6/14/04 The Talking Elbow Jason Oz, how come you only gave your dads movie 4 of 5 stars? 3 stars
6/13/04 Kelly Nicole Kidman's more concerned with her collagened lips and overacts -- it's distracting 3 stars
6/12/04 Anne Peterson tries to push a silly, watered-down feminist angle and just reinforces stereotypes 1 stars
6/11/04 dave go watch garfield, its better than this crap 1 stars
6/11/04 Jason Oz Support my dad! 4 stars
6/10/04 robert berkoff pass 2 stars
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  11-Jun-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 09-Nov-2004



Directed by
  Frank Oz

Written by
  Paul Rudnick

  Nicole Kidman
  Matthew Broderick
  Bette Midler
  Glenn Close
  Christopher Walken
  Jon Lovitz

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