The Stepford Wives
—About this Film
The new Stepford Wives is missing its teeth. It lazily falls into a bed of boredom, placing its dentures safely in a glass at the table stand. Gone is the bite of the original 1975 film, a creepy piece of work that threw an intense anti-male message into an already volatile feminist movement. While the original is by no means a perfect film (though it is a cult “classic”), it does succeed in maintaining a frightening tone throughout, and the ending of the film is chilling and truly scary. In fact, the final 30 minutes plays more like a horror movie than anything else. It’s energized by a pro-feminist theme and layered with horrific symbols.
But we’re not talking about the 1975 movie here. The new film is helmed by director Frank Oz, who takes the story in a different direction and dips the “battle of the sexes” idea into a pool of dark comedy. The problem is, the movie never settles into a distinct tone. The comedy is forced (at best it might produce a chuckle), and the dark aspects aren’t dark enough. Sadly, the movie gets lost in a mess of its own cuteness, Hollywood shine, and worst of all -- it suffers from a lack of inspiration. By the time it “ends” (with a wink to its predecessor), Oz tacks on a fun, yet somewhat convoluted twist ending. I guess we thank screenwriter Paul Rudnick for this welcome bit of brief inspiration.
For those not familiar with the original plot, Walter and Joanna Eberhart move their family into a seemingly perfect community called Stepford. The shimmer soon fades when the couple begins to unravel the town’s mysteries—the women of the town are not all that they appear to be. Nicole Kidman (Joanna) delivers a passable performance, and Matthew Broderick (Walter) offers up his normal quirkiness. Christopher Walken (Mike Wellington) adds his standard weirdness as the ringleader of the town’s men, and Glenn Close (Mrs. Wellington) provides some much needed energy to the cast (she looks like the only actor actually having fun). You’ll also spot singer Faith Hill in a forgettable role as one of the town’s women (forcing me to think she should keep her day job in music).
While the 1975 film made its feminist agenda clear, this version takes a more balanced approach to the gender wars. The script is updated to reflect women’s advances in society, as well as the current devaluing of the role of men in the workplace and at home. The horrific, man-dominated world of the previous Stepford has now crumbled; in fact, Oz begins with Joanna, an executive for a TV station, showing a preview for two male-bashing reality shows. Women aren’t the lone victims in this version. The confused and belittled men in the story retaliate out of anger and frustration because of the domination of women in their lives.
This reflects the uneasiness of the ever-changing American mindset about gender roles. Men and women are confused about their roles and responsibilities, and both struggle to maintain their work and family life. In fact, the movie hints that the real threat to American life is not gender domination by men or by women, but the stresses of the workplace. This stress can be fueled by an unhealthy competition between the sexes, and in the end it forces some women to long for a simpler time (Mrs. Wellington’s obsession with the 50s) or pushes others to become workaholics (Joanna).
However, by looking past their competitive natures, Joanna and Walter are eventually able to achieve peace in their marriage. They realize that true love is absent in their futile attempts to change each other but is evident in sacrificial compromise. The solution for our modern gender war is for both sexes to lay aside their selfish ambitions and support one other in the home, workplace, and church. For Christians, there is neither, “slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Contextually, this Scripture refers to a spiritual equality for both men and women in their standing before Jesus Christ. Because of this spiritual equality, Christians should be leaders in gender peacemaking and unity. Love means looking beyond differences and working together instead of tearing each other down. If we don’t strive for this, all our social circles will begin to look frighteningly like the strange town of Stepford.Links @ HJ.com
—About this Film