Review: “The Stepford Wives”

A legend before it screened anywhere, “The Stepford Wives” is already infamous for being one of the most famous behind-the-scenes disasters of filmmaking in recent years. What was supposed to be a short and simple remake of the 70’s sci-fi satire ended up costing tens of millions more and taking three times as long as originally planned. Stars bickered, the ending was reshot countless times, and during press for the movie even the stars were voicing their disappointment with how the production went. Thus the question becomes, how did the final product turn out.

Considering what went on the answer is surprisingly good. Make no mistake, ‘Stepford’ remains somewhat of a jumbled mess (especially in its last 20 minutes) and with this sort of talent involved and the inherit strong premise for laughs, it should’ve been so much more. Yet there are some genuine laughs here, good actors who seem to be indulging in their parts, and a nice manic Zemeckis-style dark edge to things which make it a more enjoyable ‘comedy’ than many other films of the genre this year ala “Along Came Polly”, “Laws of Attraction” or this week’s “Garfield”.

Still, underlying it all is the central problem of the script and the premise. The material is understandably dated as in the 70’s, the role of ‘housewife’ was seen very differently and the end twist was a real shock. The film may move it to a current time and update the effects but doesn’t do the same with the story thus it all seems somewhat moot – there’s no creepy tension and the characters aren’t particularly involving save it not for the occasional biting quip and the enjoyable cynical attitude of our three main ‘heroes’ in such a saccharine sweet environment.

That’s even before we come to the main problem of the chop and change ending. Up until 20 minutes to go, the film all but screams out to us what is going on in the town of Stepford and it makes sense. Then some bad ‘educational advertisement’ starts and what we’ve been lead to believe turns out to be something else entirely – something which, looking back, renders the various hints and clues we’ve seen not only useless but impossible. It’s quite obvious this ‘infomercial’ bit and the ending sequence around a ballroom is a more convenient ending but it destroys the film’s main credibility in the process.

So the logical leaps in an already uninspired story are huge, so it’s best not to try and follow them. Instead just go with the wacky antics on screen and funnily enough you’ll enjoy it. Most of that comes from four performances in particular – Nicole’s hyper-tense female power executive, Midler’s snappy author slob, Bart’s stereotypical yet hilarious gay architect, and Close’s insanely happy head ‘stepford wife’. The foursome eclipse everyone else, especially the menfolk with Broderick and Walken delivering snooze-inducing roles.

Scribe Paul Rudnick throws in the jokes quite regularly which have some delightful bite to it, like wise Director Frank Oz adds his skills to deliver good pacing and impressive production design. When the film follows its leads trying to learn what’s going on and sticks to the comedy it works quite well. At other times it tries to become a more serious study on modern marriage and falls flat on its face. Far from a highlight of the season, ‘Stepford’ turns out to be the one thing not many expected. Average.