Friday, December 17, 2004

The Wives of Stepford


I put off watching this movie as long as possible. When I saw they were making a remake of "The Stepford Wives" that was supposed to be funny, I thought "backlash." But Jenn had seen it, and kept wanting my opinion on it, so I gave in.

The original Stepford Wives is fucking creepy. Really, really, creepy. As far as I'm concerned, The Stepford Wives should be in the horror section of the movie store.

It's that fucking creepy.

The premise of the original was this: a successful, "liberated" woman goes into the suburbs and finds that all the women are "perfect" wives. They're always immaculately dressed, they cook and clean and don't talk back to their husbands. They're very, very creepy. The liberated woman figures out what's going on - the men have conspired to replace/reconfigure/change their wives so that they become, effectively, robots. They're no longer real people. The liberated woman, realizing what's going on, tries to flee, but her husband has hidden her children from her, so she's go herself trapped in Stepford. The last shot is the liberated woman dressed in properly feminine clothes, with a properly detached, brain-dead look on her face, moving dream-like through an immaculate supermarket in her high heels, moving serenely among the aisles with her fellow female automotons.

Trust me. It's creepy.

So, I went to watch the remake and tried to be open-minded. OK. They wanted it to be funny. Let's do funny.

Nicole Kidman is a power-hungry - and admirably good, in my opinion - executive who runs a television network. Her programming rests on shows where women are put into parodies of reality tv in which the women are stronger, more aggressive, and more sexually voracious than their male counterparts. The clips made me chuckle a bit, but really, they weren't all that different from what we're seeing now. Idiots giving themselves over to reality tv.

Now things get loopy. One of the reality shows was much like "Temptation Island," called, "I Can Do Better" in which a married couple is put on an island with a bunch of sexy people and encouraged to cheat. In the end, the man and woman need to decide if they want to stay with their spouse, or if lots of sex with hot people wins out over married love. In the clip, the man says he'd rather stay with his wife, and his days on the island with his personal prostitute were chaste ones. But the wife had sex with pretty much everyone on the island (including a couple of women), and decided that, in the end, she "could do better."

The thwarted husband, upset at his wife's decision, shoots at Kidman and then goes off and slaughters his wife and her lovers.

It's too much bad press for the network, so they fire Kidman, blaming her for inciting the thwarted husband to violence.

This was my first real, "Huh" moment.

So... man goes on murdering spree. It's the woman's fault.

This should have been my first clue that this was going to be a "blame the women" movie. Though for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how they could turn Stepford into a "blame the stupid women" movie. I lack imagination about just how much shit movie-makers are willing to spread over a movie in order to make their "vision" work.

Kidman has a nervous breakdown, and her really sweet husband, played by the very sweet Matthew Broderick comes to comfort her. It's obvious pretty quickly that they do have real affection for each other. He's "only" a VP at the network, but he gives it up so they can go away to the country and she can recover from her nervous breakdown.

So, it's not like Broderick doesn't have a job or something. He's a VP, OK? Which means he's likely got a good education, and he's a sweetheart of a guy, the kind of guy you totally marry, cause he loves you, and you adore him. It's not like he doesn't have a life, or that she crushes him under her heel, or is cruel and evil to him, or anything like that. They do genuinely seem to like each other for being each other.

The couple and their kids relocate to the gated community of Stepford, which is full of beautiful, terribly thin, twittering women in big floppy hats with perfect hair and absolutely obesceince to the whims of their very obviously dorky, out-of-shape, but overall nice-seeming husbands. The sorts of "good guys" that strong women end up with, you know?

Now, things get slightly weirder. For some reason that I can't figure out, the remake decided to put a gay couple in Stepford.

Yea. And they were accepted into Stepford (though the fact that everybody's white was brought up pretty early - gays are OK but not blacks? Huh?). It was weird. It went against everything Stepford stood for - that old-school fundamentalist Christian everybody's in these certain boxes thinking. But, hell, I was like, OK, let's see what they do with this.

So Kidman meets the other two "newbie" couples in town, a frumpy, successful writer played by Bette Midler, and the more flamboyent guy in the guy couple, played by Roger Bart, who was supposed to be a famous architect or something. The three of them become fast friends, and share stories about how weird everybody is in Stepford.

Now comes one of the best scenes in the movie, which got crapped on. The three of them go over the Midler's house - which is a filthy mess (she doesn't cook or clean - when her husband asks why, she says, "Why don't you?") - and they have this bit of dialogue about how they're all on anti-depressents, or compulsive eaters, and talk about how incredibly unhappy they are, even though they're so successful, and Kidman says, let's try and make this Stepford thing work. Let's try and be happy without all the drugs.

And I was thinking, "Cool. They're going to talk about how to find happiness without drugs, or turning into a robot. Maybe they'll talk about the fact that society is telling these people they're freaks, which is what makes them unhappy, and they'll learn to accept who they are. This'll be great."

Unfortunately, that wasn't the movie I was watching.

Kidman begins baking cupcakes obsessively. She and Broderick have a really sweet talk about how much they like each other. Roger gets robotofied, and turns into a butch gay man (he throws out his photo of Orlando Bloom [?]), which pleases his butch partner, and he runs for a Stepford political office.

Then Midler gets robotofied, and her house is suddenly clean, and she's become a slave to her husband and kids and is writing cookbooks instead of poetry.

Kidman tries to get out of town, but her kids have been stolen by the men's club, and then there's a confrontation between Kidman and the men of the men's club where she goes to try and find her kids, and they explain that they've put nano-chips into the brains of all the women to make them obey their husbands, and they've "pefected" them with some "enhancements" that make them all thin and blond, and now they're going to do it to her.

Once again, Kidman and Broderick confront each other, and I admit: I just didn't get it. I just couldn't understand Broderick wanting - *really* wanting - to change his wife into a robot. Who the hell did he think he married? Didn't he love the balls-busting woman? If that's not who he loved, why marry her? Why be married to what's basically a castrated version of the person you love? I mean, sure, maybe dump her and find somebody who's brainless to wait on you hand and foot, but giving somebody you love a lobotomy?

Broderick is just too good at playing a nice guy. Though I'm not crazy-attracted to him, I do have a lot of affection for this geeky guy, and I just couldn't understand this scene, when he tells her she's always been better at everything than he has, she's always been better at her job, at sex, at everything. And I was like, "Wasn't that what you liked about her? You want to eviserate the person you love?"

I was just really confused.

So, she basically says to him what I just said, and he appears to reject her tears, and she doesn't fight him at all, just goes down into the robot-hell to be robotofied.

Then we get what should have been the last shot of the movie, which was a frame-by-frame reshoot of the supermarket scene from the end of the original Stepford Wives, and Kidman is wearing froofy clothes and a floppy hat and has this really long blong hair, and I was watching it expecting this to be it, and thinking, "What a waste of time that movie was," and then.... it kept going.

It got worse.

Broderick takes the apparently robotofied Kidman to a Stepford party, then slips away while she distracts the guy in charge, and goes down to the robot-hell-center and deactivates all of the nanochip programs inside all the women, and the women all snap out of their reveries, and become pissed off at their husbands, and Broderick returns, the conquering hero, and Kidman reveals that she's been herself all along (I'm not sure how she was supposed to have grown out her hair so fast, but hey), not really a robot, because Broderick became a Real Man at the last minute and chose not to robotofy his wife.

Gosh, it sure is lucky *he* decided that. I mean, heaven forbid she had any kind of agency in the matter (if she was really "better" at everything than he was, couldn't she have fought him off in the robot-center, when it was just the two of them? Oh well).

And then we have the Big Reveal.

When Kidman hits the leader of the Stepford robot program over the head, the guy's head pops off.

Turns out he was a robot.

His wife, played by Glen Close, wasn't robotofied.

*She* had made her husband into a robot, and got that robot to convince all the other men to put chips in the heads of all of their wives.

Close gives a big evil-doer speech at the end to explain her motives. She killed her husband when he had an affair with her research assistant, and then rebuilt him as a robot so that everything would be "perfect," and she created Stepford so that all men would love their wives and everyone would be perfect. Or, at least, her version of The Way Things Should Be. Which is an interesting idea, I guess: a woman decides to change *the women* so that the men will love them.

Once again, the problem's not the men, or men's idea of women, but the problem is that *women need to be fixed in order to be loved.* Kind of sad, actually.

It's concluded that she's just a fucking nutcase. She kisses the robot head of her decapitated husband, is electrocuted, and dies.

Picture me staring in utter confusion at my television screen.

The final scene is Kidman, Midler, and Roger - all back to their usual-looking and acting selves (though Kidman's hair has remained blond. Huh) - having a discussion with Larry King about how great and successful their lives are. No, they say, they aren't perfect lives, but they're great.

When asked what happened to the men in Stepford, Midler laughs and says they're "Under House Arrest" and our final shot is of that supermarket again, this time with the whipped men wandering around the supermarket aimlessly. A female voice over the intercom snaps, "Stop talking and get back to shopping!"

The men mill around some more.


Seriously. The End.

Picture me sitting through most of the credits, still looking really confused.

What the fuck was that?

What am I supposed to take away from this movie? That good men will always love their wives and not turn them into robots, but women will punish bad men by making them shop?

And what about that cool scene where the threesome is talking about all the drugs they're on? Are they successful again but still on drugs? Why didn't they make a statement about the pressures they feel to be perfect being alleviated or at least put into perspective? Or was the whole experience just something to profit from, as it got them on Larry King?

And what the fuck was up with having a gay guy get "turned butch" but still be gay? In Stepford? Gay people shouldn't exist in Stepford, any more than women who have personalities. The whole idea is to parody the fundamentalist Christian "moral America" as, in fact, a sort of deep, sizzling hell where nobody's a real person, where the strong have to impose their beliefs about what's "perfect" on the weak.

This was just like... it was like somebody said, "Let's make The Stepford Wives funny!" and the only way they could figure out to make it *really* funny was to make it all actually the idea of a thwarted woman.

Cause ha ha look at how funny those stupid women are, making themselves so stupid.

It just ended up looking like an entire movie that was stupid and ill-thought out.

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