The Stepford Wives

UK release date: Mar 26 2008

cast list

Nicole Kidman
Bette Midler
Matthew Broderick
Glenn Close
Christopher Walken

directed by
Frank Oz

The Stepford Wives never seemed like the obvious choice for a Noughties update but in an increasingly paranoid summer it fits in rather well. Alongside the forthcoming conspiracy thriller remake The Machurian Candidate, the political documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 and the paranoid action-er I, Robot, it’s become a strange summer in Hollywood.

Joanna Eberhard (Nicole Kidman) is a ball-busting Manhattan TV executive. She is at the top of her league and relishes in producing shows where women come out on top. Yet, after an attempt is made on her life she suffers a nervous breakdown. Her husband decides they should relocate to the small town of Stepford. The seemingly perfect community is a struggle for Joanna, who is ill at ease with playing the housewife. But Joanna soon discovers the sinister way in which this can be rectified…

It was perhaps a wise choice to change the genre from a horror to a broad comedy. The Stepford Wives sees itself as a satire but its claws are blunt and its jokes generic. The film does start off a little sharper with some witty spoof of reality shows Joanna develops and there are some nice one-liners all the way through. But the film’s focus is confusing. What exactly is being criticised? Men’s control of women or women’s control of men? And what does being “Stepfordised” truly represent? It’s briefly suggested that it reflects Republicanism but this notion is soon abandoned.

Nicole Kidman deserves some kudos for choosing a film like this. Unlike many Oscar winners she is unwilling to squander her talents on worthy projects that could result in her receiving another nod. Step forward Kevin Spacey. She rises to the challenge well enough, even if the role is rather unrewarding. Bette Midler almost plays a parody of herself, as the sarcastic, mother-hating slob. The real scene-stealer is Glenn Close, who plays the fascist queen of Stepford with a terrifying sharpness.

There have been numerous reports of ill-feeling on the set of the film and also re-shoots to solve the ending. These are very clear as the final climax is sentimental and confused. As with most Hollywood “black comedies”, The Stepford Wives’ bark is worse than its bite. Still, it’s passable summer entertainment and compared with some of the comedic offerings we’ve suffered this year, it’s superior. It’s just a little too messy to be truly memorable.

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