July 18, 2004 | Unknown

Don’t Take Your Love to Stepford

As Ambit Gambit’s self-appointed commentator on some things gender, I thought spending an hour and a half in a suburban multiplex watching the new version of The Stepford Wives would supply the sort of ideas you’d enjoy to read my analysis of.
Unfortunately, my desire to entertain was rewarded with a confused cinematic experience, saved only by a few chuckles, some pretty cinematography and a toffee Magnum.
While the 1950s images of brides, happy housewives and post-war consumerism used during the opening credits promised much and provoked a thought (“do I have time to get some popcorn?”), the characters were so unanimously unlikeable, even the ones you’re supposed to like, and caricatured that the film failed to deliver.
Without any exaggeration, and recognising the film is based on anachronistic stereotypes, I was nearly in shock to realise Nicole Kidman’s network executive Joanna Ebehart wasn’t an automaton for any part of the movie since her “Manhattan career bitch in black” could have been invented by the most misogynist robot maker in the world: i.e. Ball Breaking Androids ‘R’ Us.
Pull a string and she’d probably say, when not spouting American television supremo speak that is, “Must emasculate, must neglect children, must take over the world” (insert laughter in manner of neurotic female Dr Evil).
When a male victim of one of Joanna’s reality shows attempts to shoot her while screaming words to the effect that he should do away with all women, there’s nothing at that point or after to suggest we shouldn’t believe she hasn’t been threatened with what she deserves.
Even if Catherine Orenstein, a feminist deconstructor of fairy tales, was correct to point out when interviewed by Ms. Magazine that “at least the remake…moves beyond the premise of the original…that men are villains”, it’s curious that Joanna as successful professional woman is such an unsympathetic figure.
At the close of the movie, when she’s working again, but is softer and with a short blonde bob that is middle ground between her previously dark hair and the long flaxen locks worn when pretending to be a Stepford Wife, the audience understands this is one modern gal who has learnt her lesson.
Of course, husband Walter, played by Matthew Broderick, already realised he didn’t want to be married to an acquiescent bombshell with microchips in her brain, which evidently makes him a “man”, but hardly goes down as the feminist awakening of our time.
In any instance, the filmmaker decides to confirm the movie’s depoliticisation, which was hinted at earlier, by putting Joanna and Walter’s woes down to an unrealistic longing for perfection, rather than war between the sexes.
Before schmaltz sets in, however, we’re incited to dislike, along with Joanna and purposely or not, the “Wives”, their husbands, conservatives, sell-out homosexuals, Walter and obnoxious kids.
Indeed, The Stepford Wives has a misanthropic tone about it that left me wondering who I should, in the American vernacular, be rooting for.
According to The Nation’s Katha Pollitt, “basically (the screenwriter) wants to have his cupcakes and eat them too: Thus men are sexist weaklings and housewives are servile bimbos and ambitious women are obnoxious but will either mellow through love or turn the tables on men because They Can Do Better – take your pick” (Pollitt’s italics).
“The movie, she adds, “is such a confused satire of its original premise – this time, the ultimate villain is an ultratraditional woman – that the characters seem to utter all their lines as if they are speaking in scare quotes”.
Making Glenn Close’s character responsible for “Stepford” might be an attempt not to alienate male viewers; after all, she dies, while members of the Men’s Association only have to push trolleys around a supermarket for their sins.
Overall, I give The Stepford Wives two out of five and recommend you see Shrek 2 instead, because it has a cute cat in it.
Read another article by Darlene on Feminist Journal.

Posted by Unknown at 9:39 am | Comments Off on Don’t Take Your Love to Stepford |
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