Friday, 17 April 2009

Movie Review - The Stepford Wives (2004)

Plot

Joanna Kresby (Nicole Kidman) is a high-profile TV executive who has a nervous breakdown due to events right at the start of the film. With her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) and her two children, she moves to the town of Stepford – run by Mike Wellington (Christopher Walken) and wife Claire (Glen Close) to start over. Everyone and everything in Stepford seems far too good to be true. While there she meets up with feminist author Roberta Markowitz (Bette Midler) and the first gay couple in Stepford, Jerry Harmon (David Marshall Grant) and Roger Bannister (Roger Bart). Joanna, Roberta, and Roger for the dissident element of Stepford, but make an attempt to blend in… and when two of the start to succeed beyond anyone’s expectation, even more suspicions are raised…


Cast

The casting is near perfect, with Kidman in good form (it’s a pity we don’t get to see her looking pretty for too long, but that’s a very minor complaint!), and once I’d got over the fact that Matthew Broderick is much older than the last film I saw him in (Ferris Bhuler’s Day Off!!), he gave a sensitive and believable performance as Walter. Bette Midler is, as always, great fun in her role, though her other half (played by Jon Lovitz) is given very little to do. The same fate is suffered by David Marshall Grant, whose partner Roger Bart gets to camp it up something chronic in his role. Singer Faith Hill makes her debut screen appearance as one of the wives with… erm… issues.

By far the stars of the show, however, are Glen Close and Christopher Walken – both are superb and bring real class to the proceedings. Most of the character-based humour stems from them, too. It’s a bit early to be talking about Oscars, but if they don’t at least get nominated, it’ll either be a crime or mean that some spectacular performances are on their way in the next few months. (History suggests that the former is more likely, but hope springs eternal…)


Production

There aren’t actually all that many special effects in Stepford Wives, but the quality of those that there are is very god. The sets are extremely well designed and the costumes wonderful.

Costume Designers rarely get much of a mention, so I’m going to be the exception to the rule (not unusual for me, I know…). Ann Roth is one of the most distinguished costume designers around, having won an Academy Award for her work on The English Patient and being thrice-nominated for Oscars (The Hours, The Talented Mr Ripley, & Places in the Heart). In 2002 was presented with the Costume Designers Guild’s honorary Career Achievement for Film Award (if you didn’t know such an award existed, you’re not the only one! I only found out while checking details for this review). Of her more recent projects I have seen Cold Mountain, and am very unlikely to see “The Village”. Ann also created the costumes for the 74th Academy Awards presentation.

So now you know.

Script

It is with the script that the film fails to each excellence, and really the whole film suffers from it. While it bounces along happily most of the time, there are at least four major flaws in it.

The first (and the most easy to forgive) is that some of the capabilities of the Stepford Wives are really not explained by the scene that explains the process they go through. If I tell you exactly what I mean by that it would ruin the scene once you actually see it, so you’ll have to find out for yourself.

The second (fairly major) flaw is that the film convinces you so well that Joanna and Roberta are basically horrible people (all but raging feminists are likely to agree with this) that you are really left wondering if it wouldn’t have been better for them to actually be “Stepfordised” and stay that way, despite the unscrupulous methods behind it. (Maybe that was intentional, but it jarred slightly to me.)

Thirdly, having created the scenario, the whole thing is blown away in a couple of minutes. It just seemed rushed, as if the scriptwriters had lost interest with the whole idea by the end.

Finally, the plot is very predictable – even though I haven’t seen the original, I could see what was coming in most scenes and the “twist” near the end was unsurprising (though still pretty good actually).

However, despite these problems, it was still a very enjoyable film.

Meaningful?

Despite what fanatical feminists and people who thought the Matrix trilogy had deep philosophical teachings embedded into it, this film is really just a bit of fun and has nothing particularly relevant to say about men / women / marriage / perceptions. Just so that you know. (Oh okay I admit it, I also like upsetting fanatical feminists and people who thought the Matrix trilogy had deep philosophical teachings embedded into it!)


Rating

The film is rated PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned - Some material may by inappropriate for children under 13 - SEXUAL CONTENT, THEMATIC MATERIAL & LANGUAGE.

In all honestly there is very little in the way of objectionable material here, but there are one or two things you might not want you children to see. I’ve put it as ok for children aged 13 and over, but you know your own standards and kids better than I do (duh).



My review of the original Stepford Wives movie

If you like romantic comedies with a “battle of the sexes” twist, you may also like Down With Love (also a remake of a film I haven’t seen yet!).

See also my Review of 2004 Movies.

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