Jack Wyatt is a has-been movie star most notable for his very expensive flops. Along with his oily agent, Ritchie, he thinks the best way to revive his career is by reviving the ‘60s TV sitcom Bewitched—with a twist. This time, the star won’t be the suburban witch Samantha Stephens; it’ll be her hapless husband, Darrin, played by Wyatt himself. For that reason, Wyatt insists on casting an unknown in the role of the nose-twitching Samantha.
In the meantime, Isabel Bigelow is a real-life “witch” determined to disavow her otherworldly life of supernatural privilege and live as a normal person. She’s extremely naive about the real world, so when Wyatt becomes … well, bewitched by her involuntary nose twitch and offers her the role of Samantha in the new TV show, she can’t see that she’s being used.
Isabel also believes Wyatt’s professions of love and falls hard for him. At first she’s tempted to cast a spell to cement that “love.” But because she’s determined to live without benefit of her magical powers, Isabel sets out to make the self-centered Jack love her for real—a task much harder than brewing a few magic potions and casting a bit of witchy trickery.
Brought to you by the writer/director famous for other romantic comedies, Bewitched has the same light-hearted feel as You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally… (which was written by Nora Ephron but directed by Rob Reiner). It has the same inevitability, too.
Isabel struggles to make people accept her for who she is without benefit of what her magical powers can do for them. She insists on being self-reliant and a productive citizen, although she’s a bit inexperienced when it comes to knowing how to do that. “I just want to be normal,” she says several times.
Even though Jack wants to turn the sitcom remake into a vanity piece, Isabel sees the story line for what it should be: “This show is supposed to be about a marriage!” she insists, showing, despite her naiveté about the world, a greater understanding of the give-and-take of marriage than the supposed normal people with whom she’s working.
Isabel denounces her father’s philosophy of using magic for instant gratification. Even though she “falls off the wagon” on a few occasions, she admits her error and “rewinds” the scene (complete with a little rewind icon in the lower corner of the screen) to undo her cheating.
Based on Isabel’s example, Jack is slowly turned from his self-centeredness toward a genuine love for her and a concern for her wellbeing.
The witchcraft in this movie, with two notable exceptions, has nothing to do with witchcraft and Wicca as practiced today. It is more a generic magical ability that could equally be used by other fantasy creatures such as elves, fairies or wizards.
Those exceptions involve Aunt Clara helping Isabel to put a hex on Jack using instruments such as a boiling cauldron, candles, various potions and incantations. Also, Isabel’s credit card looks like a Tarot card used by fortunetellers. (I’ll deal with the effect of onscreen “witchcraft”—even when it’s fake—in the “Conclusion.”)
Jack has a nightmare that he appears on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show completely naked. (Pixelation obscures his groin area and rear end.) Several women wear low-cut blouses that reveal a lot of cleavage.
Jack’s agent says of Isabel, “She’s got a cute back end on her. I wouldn’t knock her out of bed for eating a box of crackers.” Jack’s agent also uses crude euphemisms for male and female genitalia as insults and encourages Jack to use the same language. Isabel later repeats similar slang, although she’s too naive to realize what she’s saying.
Isabel’s dad, Nigel, is an old letch who hits on every female he meets, young or old. When Isabel says she doesn’t want to be like a rich man who always has to wonder why women sleep with him, Nigel counters, “Yes, but the women sleep with him, so what’s the problem?” He casts a magic spell on a young model to get her to say, “Why yes, I will sleep with you.”
Isabel’s neighbor (played by Tony Award-winner and sometimes Christian singer Kristin Chenoweth) mentions that she had sex with her ex-husband on her elliptical exercise machine. An entranced Jack tells Isabel he wants to make love to her at Sea World, in a hot-air balloon and at a petting zoo. Isabel’s assistant, Nina, plots revenge against Jack: “If we get naked pictures of him and pictures of farm animals, I can Photoshop them together,” she muses.
A scene being shot for the TV show features Darrin and Samantha kissing in bed, and after the director yells “cut!” Jack and Isabel continue to go at it. (The studio audience claps and cheers.)
Isabel uses magic to cause a large light fixture to fall on a woman’s head. (She regrets the act and rewinds the scene to undo the damage.) A scene from one of Jack’s earlier movies features a boxer being knocked out, and another such scene is set during the Vietnam war, with gunfire heard. Jack’s agent drives like a maniac, weaving in and out of traffic and cutting off other cars. Isabel’s uncle crashes his car through a gate.
A couple uses of “h—“ and “a–.” God’s name is interjected close to 10 times. There are several instances of crude sexual slang.
Aghast at poor ratings, Jack asks if the test audience was on crack. Jack pours himself a glass of booze. He and Isabel have wine with dinner, and other scenes show various characters drinking. A party features trays of cocktails. Jack tries to smoke a cigarette.
Although he’s often vilified for being selfish and narcissistic, the fact that Isabel still falls for him suggests that jerks can be charming emotional investments.
Nina is always thinking of ways to get back at Jack, such as “We could taser him and throw him in the shark tank at Sea World” and “We could electrocute him; we have plenty of cables around here.” Isabel on occasion manipulates people and situations with magic, and while generally she regrets cheating and undoes the action, a few times she doesn’t, simply promising that that will be the last time. On the other hand, her father is happy to use magic to manipulate people and does so frequently.
Aside from the troublesome sexual innuendoes and crude insults, what are we to make of Bewitched? Its witches and warlocks? Its “magic”? As noted in “Spiritual Content,” Bewitched‘s witchcraft is not the same as real-world witchcraft, also called Wicca, which harks back to pagan nature worship. Wicca uses spells and incantations, but it has nothing to do with wiggling your nose—or tugging your ear.
That’s a distinction media consumers may not make, though. Time and again, Hollywood has portrayed witchcraft sympathetically in films and TV shows such as Harry Potter, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Craft and Charmed. Many of these series and movies feature strong, witchcraft-enabled women who have the upper hand on goofy men. And that’s a set-up particularly appealing to girls, who may end up concluding that “earth-based” witchcraft is more empowering than patriarchal religions such as Christianity or Judaism.
Catherine Sanders, who has studied witchcraft extensively and is the author of the book Wicca’s Charm: Understanding the Spiritual Hunger Behind the Rise of Modern Witchcraft and Pagan Spirituality, wrote in Plugged In magazine, “Young people today often seek supernatural spiritual experiences outside of the church, which they perceive as boring and stuffy. Girls have told me they would like a more ‘female-friendly’ religion, and witchcraft appears to fit the bill.”
And, as happens in this film with the use of hexes and Tarot cards, even “harmless” magic has an almost inevitable way of leading back to the paganism and occult practices that God condemns.
When asked what Christians should do with Hollywood’s portrayals of witchcraft, Sanders hit the nail on the head, writing, “It would be easy to dismiss [movies and TV shows] as harmless flights of fantasy. Merely silly fiction. Conversely, it also would be easy to take it too seriously, overreacting as if youngsters will go directly from their local cineplex to the nearest coven. I prefer to ask why witchcraft appeals to Americans both as entertainment and as a religious practice. What’s the fascination? And what can we do in response to this surge of interest?” She confirms that “trouble brews when we try to replace God with ghosts and witches.” And then, while certainly not urging families to go out and see the movie, she concludes, “Bewitched is a chance to have a meaningful conversation—to reach out to young people longing for the Holy and point them to the genuine article.”