For about the first half of Frank Oz’s remake of The Stepford Wives I was laughing happily along, though I hadn’t really expected to, given some of the less than positive press this production has received. However, the three buddies of the story, Joanna, Bobbie and Roger, played by Nicole Kidman, Bette Midler and Roger Bart, spark off each other to great camp effect. In fact it’s all very camp as is the design of the film. I’ve never seen so many flowers on a set. Apparently they flew in exotic orchids from New Zealand for the final scene.
But is this really a camping matter, so to speak? Ira Levin’s novel was a social satire which, in the 1975 film, was made to be a little bit spooky, a little bit horror, but then, it was made in the midst of the Second Wave of feminism. It had A Point To Make about women being trapped in Suburbia, about Consumerism and What Men Really Wanted. Which it actually did quite well. This new film keeps to the idea that there is something a little wrong with the women of Stepford, who happily and cheesily serve their menfolk in and out of bed while the men play boys games in the Men’s Association clubhouse. The theme is even updated a bit. Why, there’s even room for a happy gay couple. Or are they? The gay marriage subplot ends up being perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film.
The real problem with the film is that the script by Paul Rudnick, who also did In And Out, loses its way halfway through the film when it breaks up the buddies and leaves behind the humour. In fact, it completely loses any semblance of coherent plot as the whole thing moves from amusing farce to less than thrilling thriller while attempting sketchy gestures towards the original source material. The so-called science is also a confusing mish-mash, even on its own terms, failing to distinguish between robot and human implant technology.
In the end, the film is never satirical enough, black enough or spooky enough to gel. The opening credits are fun 50s retro, not a new idea but cute. And check out a short-haired Nicole. Christopher Walken does another walk-through baddie role and Matthew Broderick makes a good fist of the hapless husband. Glenn Close just overacts and, I’m sorry, she’s a bit tedious. But, if you feel like a giggle, it is worth seeing for the madcap schtick that Nic, Bette and Rog serve up for the first 45 minutes. The rest you can pretty much forget about, unless you like spotting exotic Kiwi orchids.