The Stepford Wives (2004)

*. In my notes on the 1975 film of Ira Levin’s novel The Stepford Wives I mentioned the difficulties they had in capturing the right tone. In this updated version they seem to have had less indecision about to how to play things, plumping for comedy all the way. Unfortunately, they still wound up with a picture that’s an even bigger mess.
*. “I fucked up,” was the verdict of director Frank Oz. What he meant by this wasn’t tone though so much as the size of the picture. He’d wanted to do a smaller, more intimate film, but because of the stars and the eventual budget (a surprising $90 million, apparently $15 million of which went to Nicole Kidman) he had to make it big, which led to him playing it safe. Except in doing so he ended up not playing it safe at all and ended up with the aforementioned mess.
*. By playing it safe Oz meant responding to what audiences wanted: doing everything for the audience and not following his own instincts. But audiences are fickle masters. So when the test screenings didn’t go well the ending had to be completely revamped (making it drag on far too long) and there were numerous reshoots and inserts. They also lost the scene where Joanna stabs Bobbie in the kitchen and Bobbie short circuits, which Oz says took two weeks of shooting and seven months of effects work. I’m glad they cut it — as it’s included as one of the bonus features with the DVD deleted scenes and it’s terrible — but you can bet Paramount wasn’t happy with the money wasted.
*. Oz also didn’t get along well with the cast, though he talks about all of them glowingly on his DVD commentary. The problems were, according to one person working on the film, due to the fact that Oz was used to working with puppets. I don’t know about that, but it’s obvious he didn’t get the most out of a very talented cast.
*. They should have been great: Kidman and Matthew Broderick are the modern couple. Glenn Close, a perennial villain, is the sinister matriarch. When have Bette Midler and Christopher Walken ever not been entertaining? And Roger Bart should be a caricature but is actually real and relatable. Alas, they’re all at sea here.
*. Perhaps the most obvious example of just how sloppy a project this was can be seen in the explanation of the wives. Are they robots? Well, according to an instructional video we get to watch (was Jordan Peele making notes?) they aren’t. Instead they just have nanochips set into their brains so that they can be programmed and controlled by fancy remote units. When the programs are disabled at the mainframe in the Men’s Association the women all go back to being normal. Only the women are robots too, with robot bodies that do all sorts of special mechanical tasks and perform in various superhuman ways. So which is it? The movie very clearly indicates both, and yet they can’t both be possible.
*. “And then I asked myself: Where would people never notice a town full of robots? Connecticut!” This made me wince at how old I’m getting. The fun fact is that I’ve been in Connecticut. Once. But for the life of me I can no longer remember exactly when, outside of “sometime in the 1990s,” or why I was there. I do remember visiting the Hill-Stead Museum and seeing the Monet haystack. I also recall being at a hotel and talking to one of the servers at a buffet. He told me that Connecticut was the most boring place he’d ever lived as nothing ever happened there. But what was I doing in Connecticut? I don’t have any idea now.
*. I mentioned in my notes on the 1975 version how dated it now seemed, despite its themes having as much purchase today as they did then. I could say much the same here. Maybe it’s the whole “back to the future” angle. Maybe it’s the way the CGI looks. Maybe it’s just the silliness of everything. This is a movie that really needed more of an edge. Even with that, however, it still would have been a mess.
*. It’s not the total disaster it’s widely reputed as being because the cast is unsinkable and there are some entertaining moments before it gets bogged down in an incoherent and talky climax. Still, it seems like there’s still an opportunity out there for someone to step up and do Levin’s novel justice. Whatever that might look like.

39 thoughts on “The Stepford Wives (2004)

  1. film-authority.com

    This film really is a mess; the image of the woman spouting cash from her mouth is one that makes zero sense. Like many of today’s film, it feels like the results of a script meeting that churned out 20 ‘ideas’ based on the theme of the first film. And women’s rights, and women’s lib, were a big deal in the 70’s, whereas now women are just expected to be second class citizens and like it.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      It’s insane that they seem to have never settled on whether the wives were supposed to be robots or reprogrammed humans and decided to just go with both.

      Women second-class citizens? You need to spend more time listening to the podcasts of the manosphere! Those guys have a red-pill for you!

      Reply
      1. film-authority.com

        Men hardly have to assert their rights, given that the bottom line is that men do what they want and women are left fighting for a chance at anything like equality.

        Are you watching the other Stepford Wives tv movies?

      2. Alex Good Post author

        Negativity? I’m telling you that everyone is supporting you in finally discovering your calling. Whatever that may be . . .

      3. Alex Good Post author

        Ah, so you want to be a janitor. Or Master of the Custodial Arts. Good! It’s clear this whole blogger thing wasn’t working for you.

      4. film-authority.com

        Blogger? Maybe that’s your goal, Bunty. Some of us get paid for this. You ever earned a penny for your scribblings? How much does a screenshot of a woman on a toilet go for?

      5. Alex Good Post author

        Some bloggers do make money. Even people running movie blogs. You, on the other hand . . .

        You should take some tips from your countryman who does the Critical Drinker channel. He looks like he’s making good bank. Might be able to help you get started.

      6. film-authority.com

        Yup, not interested in social media influencers, some of us make an actual living from this lark. If you ever read or wrote anything serious, you’d know, but I guess sweary insult comics are more your illiterate scene…

      7. Alex Good Post author

        Winning BAFTAs. On the BBC. Interviewing . . . let me check . . . Michael Sarnokovsky? These may all be things that make you feel good about yourself, but they do not constitute making a living. Honestly, janitor pays better.

      8. film-authority.com

        Nothing wrong with anyone working as a janitor, not everyone sneers at those who work hard and have a useful function. So 20+ years on the payroll at the Beeb isn’t making a living?

      9. Alex Good Post author

        *sigh* I was trying to be encouraging about your desire to be a janitor. I’ve done a bit of that myself (even wrote about it a few posts ago).

        I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that being on the payroll at the Beeb probably isn’t making a living. I mean, you’re no Jeremy Clarkson.

  2. Bookstooge

    I know I watched this because I was on a Broderick kick for a year or so, but I can not remember one single detail,not even that Kidman was in it. And that is a shame.

    I suspect Maine is more boring than Connecticut…..

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      Isn’t Maine where all those Stephen King stories are set? Seems more interesting than Connecticut. Connecticut just has insurance company head offices.

      Reply
  3. Tom Moody

    Marlon Brando reportedly needled Frank Oz all through the shooting of The Score, calling him “Miss Piggy.” Connecticut is boring in the sense that towns like Darien and Greenwich are places that the New York upper crust escape to, shedding their various cultural quirks and behaving like country club WASPs.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good

      I don’t think you pronounce the second “c.” I always have to remind myself to spell it as “Connect” even though that’s not how it sounds. Or at least how it sounds when I say it. I don’t know if the people who live there say it differently.

      Reply

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