The Stepford Wives

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After a career and nervous breakdown, uptight New York exec Joanna (Kidman) relocates with her weak-willed husband Walter (Broderick) to the picture-perfect community of Stepford — where the Men’s Association is turning high-achieving wives into sexually


Bryan Forbes’ 1974 film, scriptedby William Goldman, spelled out what Ira Levin’s novel implied — that the Stepford Wives are robot replacements. This remake acknowledges that even people who didn’t see the first film know the solution to the mystery by letting us know early on that the women of Stepford are micro-chipped zombies — the exact zombification process is closer to the one seen in the TV movie Revenge Of The Stepford Wives — but it invents new surprises to string out the plot.

Whereas Levin and Forbes managed a creepy thriller with sharp satiric jabs, Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick go forcandy-coloured broad comedy. Katharine Ross’ Joanna was a real woman whose replacement was felt as a tragedy, but Nicole Kidman’s ‘castrating Manhattan career bitch’ is one caricature of womanhood threatened with transformation into another. The heroine’s sidekicks are even more cartoonish — superslob authoress Bobbie (Midler), whose book about her mother was called I Love You But Please Die, and waspish architect Roger (Roger Bart), who in these enlightened times also gets to be body-snatched into a ‘gay Republican’ Stepford Wife. Ruling the town are wonderfully iconic, bizarre turns from starched and smiling Glenn Close and blazer-clad patriarch Christopher Walken.

Rudnick teamed with Oz on In And Out, and also wrote the gay rom-com Jeffrey and Addams Family Values. This new Stepford is obviously his creation, with a constant patter of stinging lines and hilarious visions of a male fantasy world where the Men’s Association parking lot is crowded with ostentatious sports cars and classic bikes and the women’s book club discusses the use of pine-cones in Christmas decorations (“I could use pine-cones to write ‘Big Jew’ in the snow on my lawn,” snaps Bobbie).

Though the new set-up theoretically deepens the story by depicting horrible women it might be a relief to swap for robots, this perhaps misses the pain, bewilderment and sadness the first film managed between laughs and scares. Oz fades out the perfect Forbes-Goldman ending, then delivers another act of reversals, cop-outs and cartoon justice.

It’s funny, wonderfully performed by all, visually inventive and gets credit for realising that the scariest song in America is sometimes the National Anthem. There’s much to cherish here.