I have no idea why Hollywood makes movies derived from TV series that the all-important 15- to 25-year-old ticket-buying demographic has absolutely no firsthand knowledge of, or why those same designated audiences do in fact pay to see them with formidable reliability. But I can tell you this about the new
Bewitched: It is an affliction. As if the work of an angry god, the movie collects the perspectives of Nora Ephron (director, co-writer), Delia Ephron (co-writer), and Penny Marshall (producer), coalescing into a showbiz self-suck unrivaled in modern times for smugness, vapidity, and condescension. To spend even 10 minutes in the movie’s universe is to experience the Sartrean nausea of an utterly hollow head and heart.
The original show, lovable and aggressively innocent though it was (I preferred I Dream of Jeannie, if only for Larry Hagman’s manic anxiety), is far too hokey to be considered “high concept,” and at any rate had trouble attracting a daytime rerun viewership by 1976. Our new heroine is a chipmunk-falsettoed, apricot-cheeked Nicole Kidman, who’s so sheeny with digital airbrushing she’s got the unearthly vibrance of a newborn. This new Samantha (Isabel, actually) longs to give up witchery and live like a normal person in Beverly Hills (!), but before long she meets up with descending megastar Will Ferrell, who’s making a new Bewitched TV series! So she falls for him and gets cast as Samantha, even though she’s actually a witch! Isn’t that a fucking riot?! As always a fool for wealth porn, Ephron also jams her scenes with swatches and memorabilia from the old show—postmod!—and virtually every sequence change is an occasion for a song interlude. “Witchy Woman,” “Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead,” Sinatra on “Witchcraft,” the Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic.” I’m dying!
It’s symptomatic of the recycling-regurgitating Hollywood dynamic that the TV show within the movie doesn’t resemble anything a real network would make today—for all of their navel-gazing insider-ness, Ephron, Ephron, and Marshall are as clueless as farm turkeys. Kidman cutes it up, and Ferrell is so fearless in the face of the tasks put before him that he should get a Nobel, but it’s nothing they couldn’t do while brushing their teeth, or more to the point, paying their bills. The film is airy and weightless, not like, say, chiffon, but like the black smoke of burning truck tires. In an ideal world, Marshall and the Ephrons should have to sharecrop, for all the good they’ve done for the culture.