When we first see the titular, self-proclaimed “male fantasy” world of Stepford, the first thing that catches the eye of newcomer Walter (Matthew Broderick) as he drives by is a blond woman: leggy, perky breasts, wearing a little flowered dress and dangerously high heels going out to check the mail. The camera then cuts to Walter’s wife Joanna (an unglamorous and brunet Nicole Kidman) passed out, open-mouthed, in the passenger’s seat. Walter asks himself, “Why, why, why?”
And so do we. But not because of Joanna’s looks — after all, an ugly Kidman is still better looking than your average woman — but because her character is immensely unlikable. Frank Oz’s remake of ’70s sci-fi/ horror flick The Stepford Wives not only misrepresents itself as “feminist” but also wrongly claims to be funny. Its rigid stereotypes of the sexes and dogmatic rhetoric prevents the film from provoking any thoughtful commentary.
Joanna, a network TV employee, embodies the quintessential male view of a feminist, a woman whose life is committed to male-bashing. Oz introduces Joanna in a ceremony of sorts in which she unveils her network’s new “feminist” reality show, one that encourages women to leave their dweebie husbands in favor of an entourage of strippers (both male and female, oh, how progressive). Sure, Joanna may have a powerful position, but she profits from other people’s (aka men’s) humiliation and weakness. What’s so commendable about that?
Because of complications involving one of the ditched dweebs, the network asks Joanna to leave. She suffers an anxiety attack, which in turn forces her to re-evaluate her life, and the fact that she neglects her inferior husband and kids. The reflection prompts the decision to move to male-utopia, aka Stepford, Conn. It doesn’t take long to figure out that something’s not quite right about the town populated by nerds and their hot homemaker wives.
The predictable setup could have been forgiven if the film were actually funny. But Paul Rudnick’s script is comprised of lame one-liners that, if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve pretty much heard already.
Comedic highlights include a scene in which town patriarch Mike (Christopher Walken) presents an ad for the Stepford wife and another in which a women’s book club meeting evolves into a discourse on the many artistic uses of pinecones. Bette Midler, as a Jewish rebel, and Roger Bart, as the “wife” in a gay couple, also provide some laughs.
But these few positive attributes are hardly enough to make up for the stiff acting, underdeveloped characters and nonsensical plot twists that abound in this artificial dud masquerading as social commentary.
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