*. 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.