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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Perfection Doesn't Work
by Betty Jo Tucker

When man first crawled out of his dark cave, he grunted to himself, “Where can I find the perfect woman to meet all my needs?” The Stepford Wives pokes fun at contemporary men and their similar desire for such a fantasy helpmate. This 2004 film version of Ira Levin’s novel emphasizes comedy rather than the sci-fi horror aspects of the original 1975 movie. Few thrills and little social commentary remain, but highly entertaining performances by Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken, Glenn Close and Bette Midler save the day.

All the wives in Stepford, Connecticut, look like grown-up Barbie dolls and exist only to make their husbands happy. Wearing frilly dresses and high heels (even for work-out sessions), they never appear without perfect coiffures and glamorous make-up. “We wouldn’t want our husbands to see us not at our best,” explains a smiling Claire Wellington (Close), the head Stepford wife. When Joanna Eberhart (Kidman), a new arrival in town, becomes suspicious, she decides to investigate the matter. “It’s not normal,” she tells her husband Walter (Broderick).

Unfortunately, Walter is falling under the spell of Mike Wellington (Walken) and the Stepford Men’s Association. Because his marriage to Joanna has serious problems, Walter can’t help wishing she was more like the other wives of Stepford. He even tells Joanna, who’s recently been fired from a high-powered TV job, she should stop wearing black. Ouch, that hit too close to home for me. My wardrobe is almost completely made up of black because I feel more energetic in that color. Little did I realize it’s worn only by “castrating bitches.” Guess I’ll have to go shopping now and buy some pretty pink flowered dresses.

Will Walter agree to Joanna’s transformation into a gadget-like Stepford spouse? Will Joanna, with the help of writer Bobbi Markowitz (Midler) and gay pal Roger Bannister (Rober Hart), discover the Stepford secret before it’s too late? Will Joanna ever stop baking cupcakes? Will what’s left of feminism survive this film?  

Seriously, folks, that last question worries me a bit. In the interest of full disclosure, I admit to being a battle-scarred veteran of the Women’s Movement. When the first Stepford Wives film came out, I had just finished designing and teaching a Women’s Studies course titled “Feminology.” So, while enjoying the comic elements of this remake, I can’t help feeling it will do nothing to decrease the fear of powerful women -- and might even increase that feeling among insecure men. But I hope I’m wrong.       

In all fairness, as directed by Frank Oz (The Score) from a screenplay by Paul Rudnick (Marci X), Stepford Wives takes aim at both men and women looking for perfection in their marriages. And the moral of the story makes perfect sense: perfection doesn’t work.     

(Released by Paramount Pictures/DreamWorks and rated “PG-13” for sexual content, thematic elements and language.)

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