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Director: Frank Oz

Producers: Scott Rudin, Donald De Line

Written by: Paul Rudnick

Cast: Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Glenn Close, Jon Lovitz, Roger Bart, Faith Hill


Director Frank Oz claims this remake of the 1975 horror film is intended to be comedy and suspense, which is something of puzzlement because there’s not an iota of tension but a whole lot of laughs. The result is a summer film as light and as colorful as a hot pink chiffon hoop skirt

High-powered television executive Joanna (Kidman) and her pasty-faced husband Walter (Broderick) head to Stepford, Connecticut after a nut fires a gun at Joanne while she’s addressing an audience of industry insiders. The nut, it seems was one of Joanna’s contestants from a reality show entitled “I Can Do Better.” The nut’s wife, it appears, has abandoned their Nebraska marriage for group sex with exotic bodybuilders. Deciding that gun-wielding nuts are a wakeup call, Joanna and Walter change their lives. With their kids in the backseat, they head out of New York City and into the exclusive, upscale community of Stepford, Connecticut.

Their new up-to-date suburban mansion has all the latest amenities, as shown to them by an oddly old-fashioned real estate agent (Close) who wears a stiff starched skirt and has a permanent smile plastered on her face. This is the first clue that in Stepford something unusual is afoot, but Joanna is a little slow on the uptake. She only starts to get the hint at the subsequent Fourth of July picnic. Surrounded by super-friendly women in crisp, bright floral prints, Joanna, outfitted in a smart black dress, befriends the only people who look like her—the darkly dressed and disheveled Bobbie Markowitz (Midler) and Roger (Bart), a wise-cracking gay guy with a Gucci obsession. The sardonic threesome all compare notes and realize indeed something is wrong with their new community. The women are too chipper, their houses are immaculate, and they have great sex with their husbands in the middle of the day.

Joanna attempts to figure an explanation for this seemingly odd behavior, but one by one her friends fall victim to the strange behavior. Plump Bette Midler frankly steals The Stepford Wives away from lanky Kidman with her about-face performance. Her conversion from a barking, brash, best-selling author into a blond, cookie-baking, buxom housewife is nothing short of hilarious. Yet director Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick have no interest in exploring the battle of the sexes. The original Stepford film had sinister tones of antifeminism, but this updated version shies away from any heavy-hitting social commentary and instead goes for a fluffy reminder that diversity is good and conformity is not.

It’s obvious Oz and Rudnick are aiming for something other than a Faludian backlash or taking aim at suburban conformity and the quest for an immaculate lawn. Instead the point is that’s okay to be different and imperfect. This watered-down topic renders The Stepford Wives useless as any sort of really interesting summer film, though, to his credit, one suspects Rudnick never had the intention of trying to be anything but funny. But even at that, the underlying message of the film is undone by the performance of the perfect Ms. Kidman. When Joanna seems to fall victim to the strange malady affecting Stepford women, one gets the sense Kidman is having too good of a time. Sauntering up and down the grocery store aisle with a sex kitten glint in her eyes, Kidman seems to be enjoying herself as the ideal blond woman. It’s hard to make the audience believe Stepford suffers from a terrible social disease when it looks like blonds really do have more fun. Thus The Stepford Wives is highly polished Hollywood pabulum in top form, mildly entertaining but lacking in any real content or style.

—Nancy Semin

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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