“All the women around here are perfect sex-kitten bimbos. All the men are drooling nerds. Doesn’t that seem strange?”
There’s something pretty amazing about how bad the 2004 remake of The Stepford Wives, especially given the acting talent it managed to accrue. Nicole Kidman, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler…all tempted by Ira Levin’s original novel and director Frank Oz and all abused by the Hollywood machine at its very worst. I knew a little of the film’s troubled history beforehand but I think my favourite tidbit on reading up on it was finding out that Kidman refused to attend the premiere and decided instead to go to the Tonys to give Hugh Jackman an award.
It’s all the more frustrating that the raw ingredients were definitely there for something special. The satire of 1950s US society and in particular its notion of femininity remains as pointedly relevant as ever and as we’re introduced to Kidman’s Joanna Eberhart, a reality TV producer who is fired after pushing the boundaries too far, the updating seems to make sense. Swept away to the Connecticut town of Stepford by husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) to start a new life, it soon becomes apparent that there’s something up with the neighbours.
But when I say soon, I mean within the first 15 minutes. There’s no suspense at all about what has happened to the women of this town in their identikit perfect housewife way, led by a near-maniacal Glenn Close, which reduces its impact severely. And it’s just not as funny as it should be as the few friends Joanna finds – Bette Midler’s scatty Bobbie and Roger Bart’s catty Roger – remain crucially underwritten so that their fates, along with Joanna’s, similarly don’t have any resonance. Likewise, don’t mention her kids or where they end up or child services might have to get involved.
The biggest crime comes with the film’s denouement though. Reshot after test audiences said they weren’t keen on the original, and faithful, ending, the new twist implemented by the writers completely flies in the face of what has gone before. The continuity issues about what has actually happened to the women of the town, where head honcho Christopher Walken has been being Christopher Walken as only he can, are criminally inconsistent, a sure sign of a troubled post-production process, and in its final moments, slips into sheer laziness with a stupidly dumbed-down ending. Avoid like the plague.