The Stepford Wives
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Frank Oz
scr Paul Rudnick
with Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, Jon Lovitz, Faith Hill, David Marshall Grant, Matt Malloy, Billy Bush, Mike White
release US 11.Jun.04, UK 30.Jul.04
04/US 1h33

Perfect couple: Broderick and Kidman

close walken midler

The Stepford Wives

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This spicy remake of the 1975 thriller (based on Ira Levin's bestseller) walks a very fine line between black comedy and suspense movie. But with its smart script and dead-on comic performances, it actually works as both.

After Joanna (Kidman) loses her high-powered Manhattan TV exec job, her husband Walter (Broderick) seizes the chance to start life over again without all the stress. So they pack up the kids and move to an idyllic suburb called Stepford. While Walter joins the local men's association, Joanna quickly befriends two other new residents--a sassy writer (Midler) and a gay architect (Bart). This trio of amateur sleuths decide to investigate the town's odd goings-on, most notably the way all the women seem just a bit too perfect. But that's only the tip of the iceberg.

With a story this well-known, you've got to do something clever, and Rudnick fills the script with such brilliant touches that even a graceless director like Oz can't miss (and to be fair, this is Oz's strongest film yet). The cynical humour pokes sharply but subtly at America's insular affluence and stereotypical roles that create a false sense of success without actually achieving it. Under all the goofiness, this is actually a strong statement about aspirational lifestyles, but the witty script is so dry that those in the target area won't get the joke!

Meanwhile, the film's surface is hilariously colourful. Kidman gives it her all with an energetic, entertaining performance that has true layers of complexity underneath the goofiness. Broderick brings just the right puppy-dog nerdiness to the confused-and-potentially-evil Walter. Walken is great fun as Stepford's puppet-master. And Midler and Close (as the town's mother figure) are sheer perfection--outrageously camp with a controlled edge that's often rather terrifying.

If even a moment in this film hadn't sustained the tone, it never would have worked. So all credit to the cast and crew for the fine balancing act they perform right to the multi-twist ending. The result is a fabulously entertaining piece of candy, wrapped in a shiny pink ribbon. With a surprisingly provocative aftertaste.

cert 12 themes, language, innuendo 5.Jul.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... The Stepford Wives Laurie T, Minneapolis: "I vaguely remember the first, and I remember that it was primarily a horror movie - really creepy. This one is actually hilarious - in a dark way. Glenn Close plays a wacky character to a tee, Bette Midler is wonderful, and what can I say about Nicole - perfect as always. This has to be one of those must-see movies of the summer - you will laugh, I promise!" (13.Sep.04)

Chris Clark, St Louis: "An unfortunate mess. There were some funny moments and I did chuckle a time or two, but most often I was shaking my head in disbelief at what was unfolding before me. I kept asking myself one question - Why? The original was a chilling, memorable and somewhat controversial hit in its day, but the awkward insertion of slapstick comedic elements made it seem more like a really bad Disney film about pretty robots controlled by bad men. I have one more word about this film - stupid." (17.Jun.04)

2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall