PG-13 for sexual content, thematic material
June 11, 2004
Comedy, Romance, Thriller
Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Christopher
Walken, Faith Hill, Bette Midler, Glenn Close
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The Stepford Wives
By Randall Allen Dunn
- Marriage takes a beating from which it never fully recovers
in "The Stepford Wives", taking Christian faith along with
it. Were it not viewed through the Hollywood lens, its well-intended
message of accepting our imperfections and making marriages work may
have come across. But the positive themes are drowned out by the negative
examples of bad relationships.
Plot: Nicole Kidman plays Joanna Eberhard, successful president
of a major television network, and creator of "battle of the
sexes" reality shows. When one show leads a contestant to abandon
her husband and he tries to kill Joanna, the networks fire her. Her
husband, Walter (Matthew Broderick), moves them to the quiet town
of Stepford, Connecticut, for a fresh start. Walter is immediately
drawn to the unbelievably beautiful neighborhood women, who do their
husbands' bidding before being asked. On the surface, everything is
perfect and idyllic, but Joanna doesn't trust the local women, who
keep their houses immaculately clean and even wear full dresses and
make-up to do aerobics. They soon learn that the town's men have "adjusted"
their wives to become slaves, fulfilling all of their personal desires.
Worse, Walter is seriously considering the benefits of having a "perfect"
Good: Fun and entertaining, this film uses a silly, surreal
Tim Burton style that doesn't take itself seriously for a moment.
The campy portrayals are carried off masterfully by Kidman, Broderick
and Glenn Close, an eerily good-natured woman who guides everyone
in the ways of Stepford's idyllic small town life.
The film mocks most negative acts, showing the irresponsibility of
husbands who leave their wives with excessive housework while they
play war games with remote-control cars. The most valuable moments
show Joanna and Walter honestly assessing their marital problems and
determining to work through them. Even better, Joanna selflessly strives
to conform to the Stepford standards for wifely behavior, though she
finds them demeaning and unrealistic.
When she learns that Walter wants to force her to be "adjusted"
like the rest of the town women, to automatically behave as his personal
slave, Joanna argues that a robotic wife can't say "I love you"
and actually mean it. In a final attempt to persuade him, she delivers
a passionate kiss that speaks more of her devotion to him than of
desire. The film ends happily for them, having found a balance between
family and career life, and we know they have committed to staying
Bad: The message of accepting our imperfect spouses and ourselves
is drowned out/overpowered by the bombardment of marital complaints
and spouses who are trigger-happy to get divorced. When we first learn
of Walter's frustrations with his preoccupied, career-driven wife,
he is walking out the door, saying, "Game over. Marriage over."
A disillusioned couple, Bobbie (Bette Midler) and her husband (Jon
Levitz) constantly challenge each other in bitter verbal battles.
And in typical Hollywood fashion, a central sympathetic character,
Roger, is an unabashed homosexual. He provides half of the film's
sexual banter, which is raw.
Besides some shocking references to body parts and the open flirting
of wives toward other married men, the most distasteful scene involves
Joanna, Bobbie and Roger breaking into an injured friend's home, where
they hear loud and prolonged wails of intimacy from an unseen bedroom.
Roger starts toward it, saying, "I want some." The woman
(Faith Hill) then comes downstairs in a short, revealing nightgown,
and Roger unwittingly sets off her "adjusted" body's controls,
causing her breasts to swell to ridiculous proportions.
The mock reality show at the beginning also shows a dozen attractive
men and women in overtly sexual outfits, described as "professional
prostitutes" hired to tempt the married couple. The sensuality
is heavy. Beautiful women wear tight, low-cut summer dresses that
appear innocent, but the collected mobs of these women with their
perfect figures and slavish behavior becomes extremely suggestive.
Walter is immediately drawn to lust after the neighborhood women,
and further tempted to have such a wife who will do his bidding before
even being asked. He becomes detached and selfish like the other men,
seeing Joanna as an interruption to his personal plans.
Christian faith and traditional values are mocked often. Stepford
is presented as a naïve 1950's world, where Christianity is lumped
together with Republican politics and "family values", which
also seem to support the subjugation of women, disregard of homosexuals,
and insensitive men pursuing adolescent fantasies.
Bottom Line: Though well intentioned, this film fails to convince
us that marriage is worth fighting for. Were it not viewed through
the Hollywood lens, its message may have come through. If anything,
it teaches us to hate anyone who expects us to change our behavior
for them, especially the opposite sex.
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