Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Stepford Wives (live action movie), via Netflix

The Stepford Wives (2004) is a dark comedy.

I haven't seen the original 1975 version, but I somehow already knew what the "Stepford wives" were. I think maybe my mom told me when we were talking about the newer version after it first came out?

This review contains SPOILERS. Read at your own risk.

Synopsis:

Joanna, a successful TV network president, has a nervous breakdown after being fired from her job. Her husband, Walter, quits his position as vice president at the network and tells her they're going to settle down in a nice, quiet community in Connecticut called Stepford.

Although Walter seems to fit right in, Joanna is a little horrified by Stepford. All the wives are perky, perfect, and brainless. They're completely devoted to their husbands and children and enjoy doing housework. It's all radically different from what Joanna is used to. She feels a little better when she meets a couple friends - Bobbie, a brash novelist, and Roger, a flamboyant gay man - but her rocky marriage makes her wonder if maybe she shouldn't give the Stepford way of life a try.

Joanna soon realizes that things aren't quite right in Stepford, but will she be too late to save Roger, Bobbie, and herself from being turned into creepily perfect Stepford spouses?

Review:

Every time I saw this movie in stores, I was tempted to get it, but I always passed it by, figuring it wasn't going to be something I'd want to rewatch. When I noticed that Netflix had it and that it would be removed from their catalog soon, I decided to finally give it a try. By the way, one of several things I already like about Netflix over Crunchyroll is that you can see when something is due to expire just by scrolling through your queue online. Now if only Netflix had a less pathetic collection of anime...

Okay, back to The Stepford Wives. I'm not sure what, exactly, this movie was going for. Joanna's “women are better than men” behavior and thinking was over-the-top. She was entirely career-minded, to the point that she barely saw her husband and children for over a year. Stepford was over-the-top, too, in the other direction, with gaggingly perfect wives who had no minds of their own and who acted  happy to be that way. I assumed that a happy ending, if there was one, was going to involve husbands and wives meeting each other halfway. If the actual ending was supposed to be seen by viewers as being a happy one, and I'm guessing it was, then I was wrong.

In the end, Joanna and other women like her win. The husbands are punished by being forced to do all the household chores they'd previously programmed their wives to cheerfully do. There didn't seem to be any evidence of anyone meeting each other halfway. Granted, Joanna was no longer creating shows set up to allow women to stomp all over men, and it wasn't actually clear whether Bobbie and Roger were still with their husbands (partners? I'm not sure whether Roger and Jerry were married), but I didn't really get the impression that any of those characters had changed, for the better or at all, either. I finished the movie feeling unsettled and unsatisfied, because, while I found the Stepford setup to be abhorrent, I also wasn't all that fond of Joanna and Bobbie's opinions towards men. The movie seemed to be saying that Joanna and Bobbie (and Roger, I guess, although I never knew enough about him to get a sense of him as anything other than a stereotypical gay guy) had won, and that that was a good thing. I didn't agree. It was like watching a movie version of some of the worst stereotypes about feminism.

My impression of the movie wasn't helped by all the character inconsistencies. On the one hand, Joanna was the sort of woman who created shows like I Can Do Better! I Can Do Better!'s premise was that each half of a couple would get to spend a week alone with hot members of the opposite sex. After that week was up, the husband and wife got to choose whether to stay together or be with whoever they spent their week with. The nice, loyal, ordinary husband of course chose to stay with his beloved wife, while the wife would shout “I can do better!” and leave him for the group of guys she just spent the past week sleeping with. Somehow I was supposed to believe that Joanna, a woman who could okay (or even think up?) a show like this, was completely in love with her ordinary-looking husband. It just didn't compute.

I was interested enough in the story to want to see how things would turn out, and several aspects of the ending surprised me. Even so, this was, at best, a mediocre film. I have a feeling I'd have liked the original more. The way gender relations were depicted in the newer version was black-and-white, screwed up from start to finish, and didn't make for a very good comedy.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • The Host (book) by Stephenie Meyer - If you liked the creepiness of ordinary people being replaced by happy, perfect versions of themselves, you might want to give this a try. In this science fiction book, the Earth is invaded by parasites that enter their human hosts and take over their bodies. A human who has been taken over by one of the parasites can be identified by his or her much nicer, kinder behavior. I have written about this book. Since my posts is filled with spoilers, here's the short version: Don't be scared off by the author's name. Although this book definitely has its problems (Ms. Meyer, what is with your worlds' screwed up versions of love??), I'd argue that it's much better than any of the Twilight books.
  • The Stepford Wives (book) by Ira Levin - I don't think I would have realized The Stepford Wives was based on a book if it weren't the searches I did while trying to come up with watch-alikes and read-alikes.
  • Surrogates (live action movie) - If you'd like another science fiction movie in which people have focused on being beautiful and perfect, you might want to give this a try. In this future, people interact with each other via perfect, young-looking surrogate robots. Murder, pain, and fear no longer exist, because the destruction of a surrogate doesn't kill the human being controlling it...except someone has figured out a way to kill people through their surrogates. I saw this in the theaters but only ever mentioned it briefly in this blog.
  • Death Becomes Her (live action movie) - I was trying to think up a dark comedy with a similar feel, and this came to mind. Two rivals drink something that stops them from aging...and also makes them immortal.
  • The Stepford Wives (1975) (live action movie) - I've heard that the 1975 version of the film was much better, not to mention completely different in tone. Those who'd like to do a comparison should give the original film a shot if they haven't already seen it.

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