What could be better than trashing corporations and Connecticut at the same time? or revealing the normative American ideal to be the performative campy thing that it is? Only the all new, remake of the 1970s classic retaliation against Donna Reid, The Stepford Wives. Through its transition to the present day, it managed to keep all the quirk of the original while adding completely new elements, both in plot and style.
Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is a successful network exec who gets canned when a deranged reality show participant goes on a shooting spree. Her ever-faithful husband Walter Kresby (played by the slightly pudged but still cute-as-a-button Matthew Broderick) resigns his position at the station too. In an attempt to salvage a life and some sanity, they leave Manhattan for the peace of a gated community in Connecticut called Stepford. But little miss rain cloud struggles to get along among the mindlessly cleaning and exercising Stepford women, headed by the stunning domestic goddess Claire Wellington (Glenn Close) and her polished, 50s fashionable, husband Mike Wellington (Christopher Walken). Joanna is friendless until she meets Bobbi Markowitz (Bette Midler), a slovenly, Jewish, successful, man-trashing writer, and Roger Bannister (Roger Bart) a funny flamer with a log-cabin republican partner. All three are frustrated with the odd computerized houses, achingly gorgeous and attentive wives, and the mystery surrounding the women-excluding Stepford Men's Club. Their frustration quickly turns into intense suspicion when Joanna and Bobbi find all Roger's favorite outfits in the trash and see him with a short politician haircut in a starchy suite giving a campaign speech. When Bobbi herself turns up in a fluffy blue dress and blonde curls, Joanna really knows something's up and attempts to flee. In case you've never seen the original I'm just gonna say one thing: robotic technology.
It is here that The Stepford Wives takes a turn from its predecessor, which was really a welcome surprise, as was the film as a whole. The plot remains remarkably true until the end, while spicing it up with the addition of colorful gays and Jews. And in fact, Stepford is very accepting of religions, races, orientations, etc… as long as they still fit the Stepford mould. Very poignant, I thought. The all new Stepford Wives 2000 also has no problems taking shots at big business. All the Stepford husbands seem to come from techy Fortune 500s. When one says he comes from AOL, Joanna shoots back with "Is that why [the robots] are so slow?"
The acting too, is superb in a calm un-Oscar-like way. The Stepford Wives is not high drama but it's well-balanced for the humor and adventure of the story. Bette Midler is the quintessential ball-breaking writer, and even her chubby hubby Jon Lovitz is just the right amount of classless Stepford wannabe, as he shakes his 4th of July painted tummy. Matthew Broderick is sweet, loveable and as bumbling as he has been for the past few years (since Election I suppose) with that sweet boy charm and just a little bit of nasty jealousy lurking beneath the surface. Kidman is the perfect power-suit with short, dark, ruddy hair that's so stringy it teeters on the edge of fashionable and crazy. And those strands falling over her eyes, along with the dour expression and pouty lips, are totally sexy, reminding me of Michael Pitt, especially as Tommy Gnosis from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Make of that what you will; it was in excellent dusky contrast to the bright Stepford whiteness. When Walter attempts to get her to wear colored clothing, "Only castrating Manhattan career bitches wear black. Is that really what you want to be?" she responds, "Ever since I was a little girl." But the consummate Stepford couple is the flawless Wellingtons. The creepy Christopher Walken plays the patriarch with suave perfection. And Glenn Glose, whom I am most used to seeing as a powerful and controlling manipulator, hell in high heels, and not as the housewife of every man's dreams, is almost too much to bear. But Close's portrayal of the craft-obsessed woman is carried off with pageant-like beauty and grace.
Frank Oz has remade The Stepford Wives very appropriately for an era very different from that of the 1970s, while still keeping enough 50s kitsch to chuckle at. While in some ways more cynical there is something to be missed from the outright bleakness of the original and yet, I was glad I got to come out of the theater satisfied. What's even better is that I would walk right back in again.