Friday, June 18, 2004

Stay away from 'Stepford'

—Originally published 6.18.04

Neither funny or compelling, "The Stepford Wives" fails on almost every level.

I love a good dark comedy, but this is one of the dullest I've ever seen. When I check my watch more times than I laugh, you know things aren't going so well.

Nicole Kidman, an excellent dramatic actress, borders on pathetic in her "comedic" turn as Joanna Eberhard, a television executive fired in the opening minutes of the film for pushing the reality envelope a little too far. She suffers a nervous breakdown which leads her husband, Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick), to quit his job at the network and move the family out of the big city and into Stepford, Conn. -- apparently home to every suburban cliché known to man.

Stepford is populated by mediocre men with "perfect" wives -- a little too perfect, as it turns out. The women of Stepford have microchips implanted in their brains which transforms them into their husband's "dream wife": Beautiful, sex-crazed, keep-the-house-spotless types whose only job is catering to their mates' whims.

As a suburban kid with a homemaking mother, this movie turned me off completely. It takes the typical big-city attitude that a woman's only validation is through building a professional career. All of the Stepford wives were former big-shots: CEOs, judges, etc. Now, they're just housewives -- how horrible!

Call me old-fashioned if you want, but in a society where more and more kids come home from school to empty houses, women who sacrifice their own careers to stay home and raise their children should be celebrated, not vilified. And it's not just a gender thing -- I would gladly stay home with the kids, given the option and financial security.

"Stepford Wives" also delves deeply into the tired cliché of "looks aren't everything," but I find it hard to swallow such a message from a film starring Kidman. She is Hollywood's ultimate porcelain doll, with 18 thousand stylists prepping her every move; preaching to me about how men should look deeper than superficial beauty drips with hypocrisy here.

The only redeemable insights from "Stepford Wives" involve its portrayal of men. As a whole, we are, in fact, a disreputable bunch -- I don't understand why women put up with us at all, really. The men of Stepford are pathetic schlubs, jealous of their wives' successes to the point of mental illness. They hole up in a giant clubhouse and whittle away the hours smoking cigars and playing with remote control robots (besides their wives). Welcome to male paradise, ladies -- "Stepford Wives" pulls away the curtain.

The film features decent performances from Glenn Close, Bette Midler and the always-welcome Christopher Walken. But the script is so boring, the stereotypes so typical and the jokes so lame, the actors' talents are essentially squandered.

If you want a film that seriously examines a woman's struggle for a satisfying life, go rent "Far From Heaven." If you want a dark comedy that is funny and poignant in its examination of suburbia, watch "Pleasantville" again.

Either way, forget the "Wives."

Grade: D+

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