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Empty Vessel

The Stepford Wives (2004)

How incredible. That is what I kept thinking while watching this update of the 1975 film based on Ira Levin’s 1972 novel of the same name. How incredible. And by that I mean: how incredible that so many talented people were involved in this both in front of the camera and behind the scenes and it is still such a vapid, dull mess a movie. You can smell the stench. There sure is something rotten in Stepford… and it is the cheese.

At first the idea of retooling The Stepford Wives into a comedy makes sense. The novel and the original “classic” both had veins of the blackest humor. But here, all the “laughs” are dreadful one-liners and cheap sight gags that don’t work and are not remotely amusing.

Of course the idea of men replacing their wives with sex-slave-house-cleaning-obsessed robots is a little more than over-the-top but the way Ira Levin wrote it made it very easy to swallow and very chilling. The first film incarnation directed by Bryan Forbes, which I don’t hold in as high esteem as some others do, was still a success, with winning performances, a no-non-sense script and several genuinely eerie moments.

The only scene in this remake that is good, is directly lifted from the original and shows the women post-make-over greeting each other in the supermarket and gliding as if in a dream. All of the new tweaks and polish to the story, strangely enough, make it feel more out of touch than the 70s version. This remake is high camp masquerading as some queer sort of battle of the sexes farce, and it especially falls flat when it tries to make us worry or care about the characters – they are such stereotypes that one almost begins to hope for them to be turned into hardware. Everything is so over-styled, over-played, over-acted and over-written that it cannot even be enjoyed for how bad it is.

I don’t know how many rewrites and re-shoots this film went through, but it certainly feels like there are several different versions of the movie going on at the same time. John Cusack and Joan Cusack were originally cast as Joanna’s husband and Bobbie Markowitz and one has no problem understanding why they both pulled out. The acting here is all limp and soggy or scenery-chewing awful – even Christopher Walken, so creepy and menacing even when attempting to play a “normal” character, is unremarkable and under-used.

Our main character Joanna, has been changed from a photographer to the most powerful woman in television – and as we see a presentation reel of her “cutting edge” new shows they are all such idiotic parodies of cobbled together reality trash that I doubt even VH1 would air them – yet she is supposed to be the head of one of the major networks. As clueless as she seems, it is amazing she has a job at all, let alone such a high ranking position. But everything falls apart after a disgruntled “contestant” from one of the new shows makes an attempt on her life, and she is fired from the company and has a totally unrealistic breakdown. Her husband, sad-sack Matthew Broderick decides to move her out of the city, and into a gated community in Connecticut so they can raise their children right and try to repair their marriage.

Well, before long Joanna is suspicious of all the perfect woman in perfect pastel gowns and heels, who just love to discuss Christmas crafts and keep their husbands happy and their homes spotless. Joanna has apparently never met anyone who wasn’t born and raised in New York because she thinks – hey, these woman are vacant but they seem so content, I guess this is just how everyone from the country is!

The great thing about the novel, and the original film was that nothing was really ever EXPLICITLY explained. It was all  implied, hinted at, half-guessed, hovering at the edges. Here, we see everything – the woman have their own remote controls, sparks fly from their ears, one woman exists as a personal bank for her husband, and puts his debit card into her mouth, ingests it, and produces cold hard cash – in singles no less! It isn’t funny and it isn’t well done. All of the subtext of the novel and previous film is stripped away or mangled and it becomes clear this movie has nothing of value to say or show us.

And the ending makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, and manages only to completely undermine any coherency (which wasn’t much) that there was before. The Stepford Wives 2004 is obsolete and belongs on the scrap heap. D

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