A film by Frank Oz
Joanna (Nicole Kidman) is an executive who runs a television network. She seems to be responsible for some of the big reality shows that are being aired (we meet her as she is announcing several new shows that take “reality tv” to a ridiculous level). When one of the reality shows backfires in a public way, Joanna is fired from her job and suffers and emotional breakdown. It is to help Joanna and to begin a new life that her husband, Walter (Matthew Broderick) moves the family from the big city up to Connecticut to a town called Stepford.
Stepford seems like the perfect town. Everyone is pleasant, if a little too perky and perfect. Joanna and Walter are welcome to the community by Claire (Glenn Close). Claire seems to be the leader of the Stepford women’s group and the town seems to be organized around the Men’s Club and the Women’s Day Spa. Walter is welcomed right into the Men’s Club and he feels at home. Joanna, on the other hand, is very skeptical because all the women seem like they are exaggerations and someone else’s idealizations. For example, the women all exercise wearing dresses because they wouldn’t want their husbands to see them wearing black sweatsuits and have stringy hair (which was exactly what Joanna was wearing at the time). Joanna befriends Bobbie (Bette Midler) and Roger (Roger Bart), the only other two women who are not in the “Stepford” mold. A note about Roger: Roger is a gay man, but because he fits the stereotype so well of what a gay man is, he counts in Stepford as “one of the girls”. Together, the three of them try to find out what is going on in Stepford and why the women are all so strange (and why one of them seemed to spark at the ears during a dance). Why are all the women such male fantasies and the men remain their geeky selves?
This 2004 adaptation of “The Stepford Wives” is more of a comedy than the horror leanings that the original is said to have had (I admit, I have not seen the original film, nor have I read the book). Since I cannot compare the film to either the novel or the original film, I can only work with what I am given on screen. The first half of the movie is fairly effective and interesting as the world of Stepford is being set up. The problem lies in the fact that the second half of the movie may or may not have contradicted information given in the first half. Something is going on with the women in Stepford, that is clear. The question is: What is going on with the women in Stepford. The term “Stepford Wives” is such a part of the Americal cultural lexicon that many people have an idea of what a Stepford Wife is, but the film never quite makes the connection. It sets up one idea, then gives us another idea, but in the end the film does not answer the question as to what exactly a Stepford Wife is. I am trying not to give away a spoiler, though the film’s trailer gives away much of the twist of the movie, so the most I can say is that “The Stepford Wives” as a film does not seem to know exactly what a Stepford Wife is at the most technical level.
It is my confusion with what the premise of the film ultimately is (and thus what the ending means) that is leading to my growing dissatisfaction with “The Stepford Wives” as a movie. I enjoyed my time in the theatre watching this movie, and it is pleasant enough, but the inconsistency of the plot is enough to knock the film down a couple of notches.