As recent events are still demonstrating, the world of gender politics is greatly divided. With these partitions going back for not just a significant amount of time, but far into the identity of everybody involved. In 2004, a film remake of a cult 1970s British horror sci-fi film used this division (that played into the original’s themes) as a jumping-off point for a campy look at society at the time. A film that looked at women, and the men who loved them, in The Stepford Wives.
When successful T.V. producer, Joanna Eberhart, suffers a nervous breakdown after the recent changes to her programming, her mild husband takes her to Stepford, a luxurious community in scenic New England, where everything seems a little too perfect, and a little too eerie for Joanna’s fashionable Manhattan tastes. When her friends arrive from hip New York, they set out to uncover the mystery of Stepford.
The film manages to draw upon an impressive ensemble cast. Matthew Broderick is perfectly embodied as Joanna’s husband, Walter Kresby, and he is joined by names such as Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Glenn Close, Faith Hill and John Lovitz. These all manage to bring recognisable but heightened characters to film, knowing also how to extract the comedy from a scene when necessary. But eyes should rightfully be on the star of the show, Nicole Kidman manages to go from position of strength to paranoid sympathy so quickly, she dons many masks in her role and manages to naturally transition smoothly between them. Famed puppeteer, actor, and director, Frank Oz bring this lovingly distorted take on 50s Amereicana (admittedly this was the style at the time), and his vision just blends so seamlessly with picturesque Connecticut.
The remake’s focus on gender politics might ring foul to the ears of those who enjoyed the original but allowed the film to fully commit to the idea of being a satirical look into not just gender politics but society as a whole. This is communicated from the offset with a tongue-in-cheek look at gender themed versions of then contemporary programming. It was a bold step in 2004, that feels even bolder watching it 15 years later.
While forgoing the creepy sci-fi seriousness of the original, for a campier and more comedic vibe, The Stepford Wives brings a lot to the remake table, by retaining the core roots, but having plenty of room for the inventive Frank Oz’s own spin on it. The film is layered in enough mystery to keep you guessing and enough comedy to keep you laughing. Whether on the screen or in your head, The Stepford Wives is much watch programming.
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