Running Time: 93 mins
Rated: Rated M
When Joanna Eberhart (Kidman) loses her job as president of a cable television network, her husband Walter (Broderick) decides it's time for a seachange. They leave Manhattan and move to Stepford, Connecticut. This gated community is picture perfect -- manicured lawns, picket fences and lavish homes. The couples in Stepford are, of a style, picture perfect too -- geeky husbands attended by beautiful, and submissive wives.
The only person who is an exception to this oppressive rule is Bobbie Markowitz (Midler), a hippiesque writer who thinks the place is profoundly dysfunctional. Stepford is tightly run by Mike (Walken) and Claire (Close) Wellington. Walter initially enjoys his new surrounds and longs for Joanna to be like the other wives. But then the newest arrivals discover Stepford's secret and set out to expose it.
This remake of the 1975 original is a parody of the USA's dramatic swing to the right in promoting "family values', and its nostalgia for a middle America that has long since vanished. In this world men go to the club and women enable them to do so. Women are responsible for a clean home, happy children, looking trim and horrific, being sexually available, cooking good food and standing by her man. A husband and children are responsible for making sure their wife and mother stay that way.
The Stepford Wives has some very funny scenes and some great one-liners, in a dark humour sort of way, but it never goes as far as good parody needs to. Director Frank Oz and screenwriter Rudnick constrain the material, and it's not clear why.
Even with engaging performances from a star-studded cast, The Stepford Wives never scales the satirical heights it's aiming for.
At 93 minutes it moves along at a good pace and delivers a solid message about true humanity being discovered in being who we are, not who others might programme us to be.
But given the film's political ambitions and its cast, it only moderately realises its potential as a social comment and good entertainment.
Fr Richard Leonard is the director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.