The Stepford Wives

***1/2

Reviewed by: David Stanners

Imagine a world where your wife's every move can be controlled by the touch of button. Do I not see men's faces all over the country glow at such a prospect, or what?

This is the world of Stepford, a small suburban town in Connecticut, where high flying TV executive Joanna Eberhard (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) find themselves, after she has been suspiciously sacked from her job.

Following a nervous breakdown, the tranquil setting of Stepford seems the ideal solution to Joanna's rather wet, tubby, Lacoste V neck and beige chino-wearing WASP of a husband. Upon arrival, the setting seems almost too perfect to be true for Joanna. Prissy, preppy, perfectly manicured women parade themselves in complete deference to their husbands, who form an old school tie clique, playing golf at the country club, while their wives get on down to housework, aerobics and cooking the dinner. Definitely too good to be true!

Just as Joanna is ready to throw Stepford to the dogs, she meets another equally sceptical figure in the shape of Bobbie (Bette Midler), a middle-aged rocker chick, full of sharp quips and a no bullshit attitude. Quietly, they fight a subversive game against Claire Wellington (Glenn Close), the town convener and chief Stepford wife, whose charm, sophistication and beauty seems less than real.

Starting their own investigation, Joanna, Bobbie and Roger (Roger Bart), the gay outsider, begin chipping away at Stepford's sugar-coated veneer and discover some disturbing evidence. One day they sneak into a house and find one of the husbands reaching for the remote, as his wife's behaviour begins to stray. At the touch of a button, she's shoved back into line.

Later, we learn from Mike Wellington (Christopher Walken), Claire's husband, that he has devised the perfect world with his revolutionary "female improvement system," where every man's wife can be programmed as he sees fit. It becomes Joanna's raison d'etre to find a way of stopping the rot, which proves easier said than done.

The 2004 version of Bryan Forbes's 1974 original is a tongue-in-cheek update. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick and director Frank Oz have done a sterling job in instilling humour and twists into Ira Levin's book. Featuring an up to scratch all-star cast, it is Close who really shines, with a cracking quirky little performance, again demonstrating her range. Walken is also well cast, showing his commitment to slightly more odd-ball projects and roles.

Despite being the remake of a rather dated thriller, it is deftly handled with a modern pair of hands, humorously swinging the pendulum far enough in the opposite direction to satisfy all concerned - even the staunchest feminist.

Reviewed on: 31 Jul 2004
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The Stepford Wives packshot
Sci-fi/comedy thriller where a seemingly perfect American suburb, with unfeasibly obedient women, raises suspicious eyebrows amongst the latest newcomers.
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Jennie Kermode ***

Director: Frank Oz

Writer: Paul Rudnick, based on the novel by Ira Levin

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Faith Hill, Roger Bart, David Marshall Grant, Jon Lovitz

Year: 2004

Runtime: 93 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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