Screenplay: Paul Rudnick
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glenn
Close, Christopher Walken, John Lovitz
PG-13, 92 minutes
by Michael D. Klemm
from Outcome, January,
I've always admired Paul Rudnick's writing and his sense of humor. On
stage he gave us Jeffrey, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told and
I Hate Hamlet. He also penned the screenplays for In and Out
and The Addams Family Values. I was very excited when I first heard
that he was re-imagining The Stepford Wives
as a comedy. What a ripe subject for a campy satire as only Rudnick could
write it! Especially with all the "sanctity of marriage" bullshit
we keep hearing about nowadays.
For anyone who isn't aware, the original Stepford Wives was a horror
novel, and subsequent film, by Ira Levin, (the author of Rosemary's
Baby). In Stepford, all of the wives have been killed and replaced
by beautiful and subservient robots. I envisioned this remake to be a
sharp attack on the current "moral values" debate, disguised
as a comedy.
Nicole Kidman plays Joanna Eberhart, a television executive whose career
is cut short when a contestant on one of her Reality shows snaps. Fired
by the network, she and her husband Walter, (Matthew
Broderick) move to the beautiful town of Stepford. Where all the wives
look, and act, like June Cleaver on acid. Joanna senses that something
is amiss. The women are all former judges, lawyers, doctors, executives,
and now they all seem positively orgasmic while doing housework.
Joanna is dumbstruck while watching the women, led by Claire Wellington
(Glenn Close), pretend that they are
washing machines in their aerobics class. Along with two other newcomers,
author Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler) and famed architect Roger Bannister
(yes, Rudnick has added a gay couple to the mix), Joanna investigates
the strange goings-on. She soon realizes that there is a dark secret behind
the men's club run by Claire's husband, Mike, (Christopher Walken in another
of the psychotic, yet charismatic, roles that he does to perfection).
concept, but bad execution. For a script by Paul Rudnick, The
Stepford Wives is not very funny. Yes, there are a few
of the one-liners that he writes so well (Bobbie's best-selling book is
called I Love You Mother But Please Die), but the laughs are few
and far between. Rudnick's trademark camp is evident, but there's not
enough of it. It didn't help that the director, as he himself states in
the DVD's commentary, cut a lot of jokes because he felt they didnt
further the plot. What is a Paul Rudnick script without the jokes? But
the biggest problem is that the final film is incoherent, and the twist
at the end makes nonsense of the whole story. It is clear when one wife
dispenses money like an ATM that she has been replaced by a robot, but
later we discover that chips have been implanted into their brains instead.
The original screenplay reportedly followed Ira Levin's concept but the
powers-that-be changed the ending without having the brains to remove
all of the earlier elements that contradict the new ending. This is sloppy
filmmaking of the ninth degree.
Gay filmgoers might be troubled by the male couple. The butcher half is
embarrassed by his partner's flamboyance. When he becomes a Stepford Wife,
say good-bye to nelly. Prior to this, he is a living and breathing stereotype.
This is unfortunate because Rudnick, in the past, has always had a talent
for subverting cliches, and making them funny, especially for a gay audience.
Take for example two classic moments in The Most Fabulous Story Ever
1. a gay Adam appears
in the Garden of Eden and sings its praises but says he would have put
the lake over there, and
2. Jane and Mabel discover fire and invent the wheel, while Adam and
Steve invent shampoo-and-conditioner-in-one.
Stepford Wives does not live up to his earlier standards
and this is a damned shame.
that the filmmakers didn't know what they were doing can be found in the
deleted scenes on the DVD. In the original film, Katherine Ross stabs
her best friend (after she has gone Stepford) and watches as a robot speaks
like a skipping record while walking into walls. Amongst the deleted scenes
is what would have been the highlight of the movie, had they stuck to
Levin's original concept. Kidman stabs Midler, who then short circuits.
One of her arms morphs into a vacuum cleaner, a music speaker appears
in her stomach, she cleans the kitchen in a heartbeat; finally her legs
turn into a lawnmower. This was a brilliant scene. And it wound up on
the cutting room floor!
Its a pity, because Rudnick worked well with director Frank Oz in
the past on In and Out. Ultimately,
The Stepford Wives is proof that too many cooks spoil the
broth.I expect films like the Flintstones movie with its army of
writers to be stupid and all over the place; The
Stepford Wives is a profound disappointment.
On Paul Rudnick:
In & Out
More On Frank
In & Out
More On Matthew
Torch Song Trilogy
More On Glenn
In & Out