Batteries Not Included: Stepford Remake Needs an Upgrade
The Stepford Wives, a comic remake of the 1972 Ira Levin bestseller, directed by Frank Oz from Paul Rudnicks script, is almost desperate to show it gets its own point. Whats funny is that the jokeInvasion of the Body Snatchers reconfigured as anti-feminist backlashwas scarcely fresh when Bryan Forbes shot the first movie version nearly 30 years ago.
A troubled production, beset by rumored retakes and on-set discord, the new model Stepford is stylishly retro in design and a trim 90 minutes in length. It has two speedsobvious and more so. In recounting the tale of an urban überfrau (Nicole Kidman) who relocates with her family to a postcard-perfect Connecticut commuter town and discovers a brave new world of domesticated fembots, the movie shifts uneasily from satire to thriller to blatant didacticism: The 2004 Stepford wife is not only servant, sex doll, and cupcake baker but, as the epitome of unpaid household labor, also a cash machine with tits. Not that the movie is any more human. Basically, its a delivery system for Rudnicks one-liners. (The best of these are given to Bette Midlers pushy Jewish malcontent and Roger Barts snarky gay spousereconfigured characters who allow the screenwriter to crack wise from his two perspectives.)
Thanks to the novel, the movie, and its three made-for-TV sequels, the term "Stepford wife" has entered the American languagemost often, and misleadingly, used to characterize either Martha Stewart or the nations first lady du jour (excepting Hillary Rodham Clinton who, when not standing by her man, was an antiStepford wife). Its surprising that the monstrously perky realtor (Glenn Close) who acts as Stepfords demonic cheerleader isnt based on Stewart, but given that Stepford itself has become a term for robotically conformist, as in Stepford candidate, Stepford Republican, and Stepford Democrat (meaning a closet Republican), its depressing that Rudnick has so little to add to the mythos.
Still, Stepford cinema as The Stepford Wives may be, its appropriate that Paramount refused to change its opening from the day of Ronald Reagans funeralhow better to celebrate the first holiday of Stepford Nation?
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