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Published July 30th, 2004 | by Ed Colley

The Stepford Wives Review

Classification: 12A Director: Frank Oz Rating: 4/5

Hollywood, being a minimum-effort kind of industry, just loves making remakes. Not only can a pre-existing knowledge of an original film be built on, thereby guaranteeing audience interest, but also the tiresome effort of actually coming up with an idea can be avoided.

Unfortunately, most remakes are rarely a patch on their original. In fact, it could be argued that the only interesting remakes are those that put a new spin on a fairly pedestrian first-time effort. Frank Oz’s The Stepford Wivesis a perfect example of this.

The original 1975 film, based on the book by Ira Levin, has a well-known premise (family relocates to seemingly perfect town only to find that the women-folk have been replaced with robots), but is not impaired by a fan base that would be ardently opposed to a remake. And in terms of the new spin, whereas the previous film was a dark thriller with a questionable attitude to feminism, the brand-spanking-new effort is a comedy, with a less suspicious reaction to the rights of women.

In the new Stepford, the ubiquitous Nicole Kidman plays Joanna Eberhart, a successful television executive and committed urbanite, who suffers a nervous breakdown after getting fired. Seeing an opportunity to start a new, stress-free life, her faithful and less successful husband Walter, (Matthew Broderick) promptly whisks the family off to the rural setting of Stepford, Connecticut.

Stepford seems like the archetypal town of the American Dream – all SUV’s, immaculate lawns, and seven-bedroom mansions. But there’s something very strange about the picture-postcard Stepford: although the men look like accountants called Myron, they have beautiful, doting wives who act like they’ve just stepped out from a 1950’s billboard advertisement for kitchens.

Whilst Walter starts enjoying the perks of being a man in Stepford, what with the constant adulation of attractive women and the frat-boy fun of the Stepford Men’s Association, Joanna smells a rat. Along with her new, also recently-relocated friends, Jewish author Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler) and gay architect Roger Bannister (Roger Bart), she begins to question why all the women in Stepford, led by Claire Wellington (a superb Glen Close), are quite so stunning and subservient, even though their hubbies make uber-geeks look like Chippendales…

The Stepford Wives remake could have been a very dull affair. Although it pains me to criticise Fozzy Bear, Oz’s direction is static and the film looks like it has been edited by a toddler with safety scissors. The performances from Kidman and Broderick fall short of what they are both capable of, and the chemistry between them is virtually nil.

The film is therefore very fortunate to have secured the services of screenwriter Paul Rudnick as well as the likes of Middler, Bart and Close. For Rudnick peppers his script with a variety of very funny one-liners that are delivered with considerable aplomb by the supporting cast.

Unsurprisingly, given that Rudnick is Jewish and gay, it is his Jewish and gay characters that get the best lines. Bart is hilarious as the exceedingly camp architect (claiming he feels ‘like Nancy Drew in the mystery of mid-life crisis’ when investigating the suspicious Men’s Association), but it is Middler as the sharp-tongued New Yorker who absolutely steals the show. She delivers line after zinging line in a way that is delightful to behold, and is far and away the best thing in the film.

So although The Stepford Wives is halfway to following the general rule for remakes (to recap – they’re not very good), thanks to the talents of Rudnick, Middler and co, what could have been a particularly pedestrian venture is miraculously transformed into a sharp and very funny comedy.

If you are looking for a movie that will make you chuckle without demanding too much of your attention, then The Stepford Wives, like the town of Stepford, is just perfect.

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