A huge problem with the remake of the 1970s hit “The Stepford Wives” is that the current version is more Brigadoon than Stepford, Conn.
The remake, in case you’ve been spared, centers on a hard-bitten female network producer (Nicole Kidman) and her puppy dog husband (Matthew Broderick). They leave New York for Stepford, Connecticut, a town of perfect, blonde wives who wait hand and foot on their nerdy, cigar-smoking husbands, after her shows are cancelled and she has a nervous breakdown.
If the Connecticut of robotic wives in Lilly-like shifts so mercilessly mocked in the remake ever really existed, it is no more real today than the world of Alan Jay Lerner’s Brigadoon. The enchanted town in Scotland that two Americans stumble on while grouse hunting, and which materializes from the mists once every century, in fact, seems more substantial than this rendering of what is supposed to be contemporary Connecticut.
The Other Charlotte(“‘The Stepford Wives’–It’s Really All About George W. Bush“) also pounced upon this flaw in the flick:
“The movie’s most egregious falsity, however, is its falsity to Connecticut,” TOC noted. “The sedate, preppie dullness of that state’s posh bedroom suburbs is supposed to be part of the joke: ‘Only in Connecticut would nobody notice a town full of robots,’ a character quips.”
Fifty or so years ago, The Connecticut Joke worked, was, in fact, a hoot, because such a society, at least to some degree, actually existed. In “Auntie Mame” (now that was a movie!), for example, the scene in which Mame Dennis must go to the shallow suburbs to rescue nephew Patrick from the staid Connecticut snobbocracy–and a damsel from Darien or some such tony township who “has braces on her brain”–is hilarious.
But this world of dutiful wives who bake cookies and try to devise clever ways to use pine cones in their Christmas decorations is about as real to us as Brigadoon. That’s why “The Stepford Wives” ceases to be really funny once the couple leaves Manhattan. The movie becomes a joke about a fantasy world.
On the other hand, the part of the movie set in Manhattan, where Nicole Kidman is a ball-busting (sorry, no other term quite captures her essence) network producer, is hilarious. The Other Charlotte and I were laughing so hard that we feared being thrown out of the movie house.
Why does the Manhattan segment work? Because we all know career women who are very much like Joanna the horrific producer. The Lilly-clad, cookie-baking housewife is an exotic creature nowadays, but the relentless network producer and her ilk–well, we all know her. She’s all too real.
Without changing much beyond moving from producing cheesy reality shows to making more upscale documentaries, the emasculating Joanna is the heroine of the movie. She and the Bette Midler character, Bobbie Markowitz, a best-selling novelist, who survives Stepford to write a novel about cutting off something peculiar to the male sex (hint: think Bobbitt), are appropriate role models for women.
The screenplay was written by Paul Rudnick, who’s very, very funny but can’t be expected to create a satire about something that doesn’t exist to be satirized.
Rudnick, whose previous credits include “Jeffrey,” a controversial movie about sex and abstinence in the age of AIDS, introduced a gay couple. Witty Roger has a Republican mate who’s just as bad as the straight guys.
If the movie presents a world that is more like Brigadoon than Connecticut, it is also, alas, reflective the real life values of the cultural elite.
P.S. Don’t miss Washington Times columnist Suzanne Fields’ observations on the movie, which I quoted in an earlier installment of Inkwell:
“The new version,” writes Fields in today’s Washington Times, “should have depicted career women as the authors of the robots, assigned to replace the new generation of women who are turning their backs on work beyond the hearth.
“The career women have declared war on stay-at-home mommies with the vengeance that the Stepford husbands applied to stereotyping their wives a quarter of a century ago. It’s not clear whether the career women are driven by defensiveness or a fear that they’re missing one of life’s great experiences–raising their children.”