Stepford perfection

Ever wanted the perfect wife? A wife that cooks, cleans and pleasures with no objections? Then Stepford, Connecticut is the place for you. A Stepford wife is programmed to obey and remain submissive, and knows that she belongs in the kitchen. While the average married man fantasizes about this, the very thought of it is a feminist nightmare.

The Stepford Wives is a quick, smooth film with a talented cast and solid treatment, but it falters in its use of tired trends. The film explores the progression of women with surprising results, showing how today’s strong-willed female has caused a role-reversal. Now, the man is left to tend to the children and have a hot meal waiting for his business-savvy wife.

The film is neither a horror flick nor suspense thriller, but a wit-filled satire featuring Hollywood’s most powerful redhead, Nicole Kidman.

The supporting cast is absolutely spectacular. Bette Midler, Christopher Walken and Glenn Close are riveting. Even the sometimes-annoying Jon Lovitz is adequately enjoyable.

One setback is that the chemistry between Matthew Broderick and Kidman is unbelievable and cliché, at best. It’s the familiar sappy love story, but Broderick is given a chance to change everything by upgrading his naggy, anal-retentive wife to the “dream” woman.

Joanna Eberhart (Kidman) is the head of a major media network with risqué programming and seems to have it all: the big house and seemingly perfect family, with which she spends little time, until she crosses the line. Apparently, not everyone is satisfied with the televised misery her network airs, especially a father who loses his wife during the pilot of I Can Do Better. Joanna graciously accepts her resignation and Walter (Broderick), who also works for the network, soon follows Joanna and leaves his job.

A few electro-shock treatments later, Joanna finds herself in the midst of sunny skies, sparkling kitchens and the bright smiles of the Stepford community.

But something strange lurks behind those gleeful grins. Joanna and Bobbie (Midler) are determined to discover the mystery of Stepford.

The Stepford Wives boasts the most impressive ensemble cast this summer, from an Oscar-winner to a country singer. Kidman branches away from drama to try her hand at dark comedy. In The Stepford Wives, her performance is uneven, delivering more misses than hits.

Midler shines as the sarcastic and eccentric friend, offering an abundance of clever one-liners. Midler holds her own onscreen alongside Kidman and Broderick. Broderick, well underused, is exciting despite his character’s underdevelopment. Fans waiting to see if Faith Hill has actual acting chops or pulls a Mariah (the songstress responsible for the critically and commercially panned Glitter) will leave disappointed, as Hill merely stands and smiles, and reacts with no emotion in her small supporting role. Besides looking breathtaking, Hill goes on untested, but in The Stepford Wives she serves as beautiful eye-candy that perfectly fits with the picturesque surroundings.

In the remake, the direction has changed from dark, cynical and suspenseful to a light satirical comedy with poignant social commentary and a side of witty dialogue. The novel and 1975 original picture took a more dark approach at the post-Nixon rise of feminism in America and the role of men in the new equal society.

Director Frank Oz places all the right elements in Stepford from the fast-paced humor to the stunning visuals that add an eerie feeling to the film. Oz’s decision to change the dark style to a bright, hilarious ride is what the audiences will be helpless to resist. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick has taken Ira Levin’s classic novel and breathed new life into the concept.

While the town of Stepford is portrayed as perfect, Stepford the movie isn’t without its obvious flaws and detractions — but the end product is far superior to the majority of the summer backwash in theaters. An innovative style change prompts the remake to stand alone from the novel and original movie but only time can tell if the Stepford ’04 will affect popular culture as much as its predecessors have.