Joanna Eberhart, a wildly succesful president of a TV Network, after a series of shocking events suffers a nervous breakdown and is moved by her milquetoast of a husband, Walter, from Manhattan to the chic, upper-class and very modern planned community of Stepford, Connecticut. Once there, she makes good friends with the ascerbic Bobbie Markowitz, a jewish writer who's also a recovering alcoholic. Together they find out, much to their growing stupor and-then horror, that all the housewives in town are strangely blissful, and somehow... doomed. What is going on behind the closed doors of the Stepford Men's Association and the Stepford Day Spa? Why is everything perfect here? Will it be too late for Joanna and Bobbie when they finally find out?
Directed by: Frank Oz
. Starring: Nicole Kidman
, Matthew Broderick
, Bette Midler
, Glenn Close
, Christopher Walken
, Roger Bart
, David Marshall Grant
, Jon Lovitz
, Dylan Hartigan
, Fallon Brooking
, Faith Hill
, Matt Malloy
, Kate Shindle
. Music by: David Arnold
Nicole Kidman, a successful, ball-breaking TV exec, is fired from her job after a disgruntled reality show contestant goes berserk. Her husband, hoping to rebuild their marriage, moves the family to the luxury Stepford estate in Connecticut. All the other wives on the estate (with the exceptions of Bette Midler and Glen Close's characters) are sugary-sweet blonde bimbo stereotypes running to do their husbands' slightest bidding. Yet all is not as it seems.
The new version of Stepford Wives is glossy, antiseptic, and well-acted. Whilst possible to engage intellectually with it, there is no pretence of unfolding a story with gradual suspense -' rather it is a tribute to the original concept with a few added layers.
It transpires that the wives at Stepford have been 'improved' by means of nano-chips inserted in the brain, turning them into virtual robots (in the earlier film adaptation, they were given drugs). All of them were formerly high-powered successful women. Now they are more interested in kitchen recipes than intllectually challenging subjects. The men have remote control devices to fine tune the behaviour of their wives.
The original idea was maybe that women should revolt against the wife-cook-and-bottle-washer image, the dye-blonde that was always docile, less successful than her husband, less intelligent, lived only to make him happy (a sort of '50s stereotype). But the new version not only asks if women should really accept such a dumbed down role, it asks if men should be dumb enough to want it. It also turns the idea on its gender-specific head when we discover that Glen Close is not a Stepford Wife at all, but the evil mastermind behind the whole village, an ex- genetic engineer. She made the original 'Stepford Husband' (Christopher Walken) as a man that other men would look up to and listen to -' and, of course, give large amounts of money to. This raises the spectre of women who seek 'Stepford Husbands' -' ie traditionally subordinated males whose primary purpose is hunter-gatherer-provider.
What the original is really saying is that to seek a standardised person in any sense or form is shortsighted and results in disaster (the gender issues raised by the original concept are merely some of the manifestations.) It's a form of onanism, treating people not as ends in themselves but as means to an end (usually our end). The starting scene (of TV reality-shows that fail when they are too successful), also lays the foundation for us to equate any seeming 'perfection' with 'Stepfordness'. As Kidman's character remarks later on, perfection isn't natural, the perfect marriage involves much more. The film is released by Paramount Pictures, and some people have observed that many executives and filmmakers there seem to have been replaced by Stepford replicants: perhaps it is to be expected when we get an audience-pandering finale. The (deliberate?) lack of emotional engagement possibly means that the people who really enjoy what the film has to say don't need a saccharine-coated ending, whereas the ones who need to be reassured by such devices as formulaic denouements will hardly feel satisfied as they have been given a 'Stepford treatment' film - such self-parody will probably have been lost on pure entertainment seekers.
Perhaps the next re-make will substitute religion for drugs or nano-chips? The men will defend some repressive religion such as modern day Islam or Christianity ("Hey, Islam isn't that bad, lots of women LIKE being treated that way.") The sexual stereotypes, women who are just there to please their husbands, are particularly prevalent in religion...
· Eph. 5:22-25 "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" · Col. 3:18-19 "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them."
· 1 Pet. 3:1 "Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives;" · 1 Pet. 3:7-8 "Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered."
This type of brainwashing has resulted in a male-orientated definition of sex where sex = penetration (as the Hite Report pointed out, penetration is simply the most convenient way for men, not women, to achieve orgasm). Sex is then used as a controlling factor for men to either physically dominate their wivespartners into being Stepford Wives or for women to manipulate their men into being Stepford Husbands. The lack of recognition for a woman's basic physiology eventually produces a backlash
Stepford Wives has been passed over as an idea addressing yesterday's problems. But, as feminist philosopher Janet Radcliffe pointed out, when feminism achieves its apparent aims by means of a backlash against men (as exemplified in the early part of this film, women rising to dominance) then that creates the same seeds in men to fight back and put women back into a subordinate position. Often when this has happened, women have achieved their ends by a sort of masculinisation, emulating male characteristics in order to 'beat them at their own game'. The more permanent solution is for women to excel not by imitating men but by strengthening their own feminine characteristics. One of the attractions of the current movie for an actor of the calibre of Nicole Kidman must surely be the opportunity for exploring the many different ways a woman can develop her strength in a single character. She goes from (masculinised) TV Exec, to (imitation -' as she only pretends to undergo the procedure) blonde bimbo Stepford wife, to woman of strong and balanced emotional sensitivity. In the final incarnation as it were, she rescues her husband from himself, reminding him how love is an emotion he cannot experience fully with a robot, and then appears on television again as a more balanced individual than before, eschewing the modern obsession with perfection and promoting tolerance and communication as a road to success.
See Stepford Wives and use it as a stepping stone to question, discuss and examine how far the attitudes iconised in the film are still prevalent, not just in the most obvious sense but in the many layers of society where one person manipulates another, or is treats someone as little more than a means to an end.
Review by Chris_Docker from the Internet Movie Database.