The Stepford Wives
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Nestled somewhere in Connecticut, the upscale suburban utopia of Stepford offers residents an insular community with a personality—and secrets—all its own. That’s where Joanna and Walter choose to start fresh after Joanna loses her job as a big-shot television producer and does a stint in a mental hospital. Stepford looks to be just the ticket. A quiet town. A relaxed pace. A chance to get out of the city and reconnect with the things that matter. The family doesn’t realize that Stepford is essentially a retirement community for rich, middle-aged nerds who want to turn their strong-willed, talented wives into agreeable automatons.
Joanna has a hard time fitting in. A feisty, amoral career woman, she’s suddenly surrounded by gorgeous trophy wives who stare vacantly, talk in unison and adorn themselves 24-7 in perky flowered dresses like demented Suzie Homemakers who live only to please their husbands. When they’re not shopping, baking or keeping an immaculate home, these dumbed-down nymphets are making midday love to their geeky mates. No ambition. No independent thought. No passion.
The women of Stepford pledge allegiance to the synthetic smile of Claire, the town’s matronly, Waspy facilitator of all things feminine. Claire’s husband, Mike, presides over the mysterious men’s club, a fraternity that lets adult males behave like boys.
Joanna, with the help of Bobbi (an angry Jewish writer) and Roger (a flamboyant homosexual), sets out to determine what’s wrong with the Stepford wives. Based on a 1975 thriller starring Katharine Ross, this far more comedic remake serves up its feminist social commentary like a bundt cake liberally glazed with liberal humor.
Offered a buxom babe on a TV reality show, a man chooses to remain faithful to his wife. When a woman appears to have a seizure, Joanna rushes to her aid and insists that she get proper medical attention. Faced with being “upgraded” into an emotionless fembot, Joanna wonders if Stepford wives can tell their husbands “I love you��� and mean it. This raises the question of whether it’s better to have someone’s absolute, unquestioning loyalty, or risk being rejected by a loved one able to exercise free will (an issue our Creator faced, electing to give humans the right to choose).
Joanna races to protect her children upon learning that they might be in danger. Walter acts bravely in his wife’s best interest. Claire longs for the days of romance and beauty when “men were men and women were cherished.” Characters agree that perfection is highly overrated. Claire says Stepford has “no crime, no poverty and no pushing.” This line, like many in the movie, esteem old-fashioned values most families would appreciate. Unfortunately, common-sense virtue is often expressed with a cloying sentimentality that makes it seem quaint and unrealistic.
Claire recommends that the ladies’ group study a book of Christmas crafts, saying that she wants to celebrate the birth of her lord Jesus in yarn. She is then insensitive to Bobbi, who is Jewish. Mike says of the men subjugating their wives, “We decided to become gods!” A homosexual talks about the power of prayer and refers to his “partner in the Lord.”
A quiz show host asks a male and a female contestant, “Who wishes they were married to a hot, sexy lesbian?” Both players ring in. A TV reality show called I Can Do Better! separates a loving couple and tempts each with the companionship of adult-film stars (the wife chooses hedonism and tells her hubby he’s history). A remote control is used to enlarge a lingerie-clad woman’s breasts. Joanna and Walter talk about having gone a year without sex. A couple is overheard having loud sex that ends with the woman’s deafening cry of euphoria.
Jerry and Roger are a gay couple who moved to Stepford. They dance together and swap innuendoes. Mike tells Jerry, “You’ll find that Stepford is very open-minded and we welcome you and your partner just like any other couple.” Since Roger is the effeminate one, he’s not invited to the men’s club, which leads him to ask if the guys there recreate with “hookers, old Playboys and cable porn.” Bobbi makes a crass comment about a vibrator. Breasts are visible on computerized images of “blank” women.
A female's programming malfunctions, causing her to spin and fall over violently. After having his life ruined on a cruel reality TV show, a guy fires a gun at Joanna. (It is implied that he had already killed four men and critically wounded his wife.) A woman receives a vicious electric shock. Joanna decapitates a robot with a sharp blow to the head. A woman confesses to killing her husband and his mistress. There are several references to castration.
Crude or Profane Language
About a dozen profanities, two-thirds of which are exclamations of “my god.” Walter misuses the name of Jesus Christ once. There are sexual innuendoes and frank references to male anatomy.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Partygoers enjoy champagne and Scotch. Men gather at a club to smoke cigars and drink alcohol. Joanna, Bobbi and Roger compare their experiences on prescription drugs such as Xanax and Zoloft. Roger says he prefers Prozac with a Viagra chaser.
Other Negative Elements
Although characters talk of putting to rest notions of “perfection,” there seems to be an underlying desire to, at the same time, eliminate “standards.” In the end, “perfection” becomes filmspeak for outmoded ideals, some of which (fidelity, gender roles, marriage between one man and one woman, etc.) should be preserved.
Are the Stepford wives being turned into actual robots or are they flesh-and-blood women with microchips attached to their brains? The movie can’t seem to make up its mind. But its position is clear about one thing—Gloria Steinem needs to wring Betty Crocker’s neck. And that’s the real issue here. While Stepford Wives’ plot definitely has its shortcomings, they pale in comparison to those of the modern feminist movement.
In recent decades thousands of women who swallowed the hook of feminism have regretted chasing the lure. They took the career track. Some rejected marriage, believing that “needing a man” was a sign of weakness. Others wed, but were so busy pursuing self-actualization that they delayed starting a family until, for one reason or another, their window of opportunity closed. While there will always be zealous feminists who never experience a twinge of doubt, countless others are second-guessing the party line. This movie seems committed to winning them back.
I fully expected the credits to say, “Officially endorsed by the National Organization for Women." And that NOW "oversaw all aspects of production to insure that no females were domesticated in the making of this film.” Kidman’s character reminds ladies that their own dreams and satisfaction supercede their responsibilities as wives and mothers. One exchange finds the newly converted Bobbi telling Joanna mechanically, “I understand what’s important in life. My husband ... my children.” Totally dumbfounded, Joanna looks at this poor, pathetic creature as if the worst thing that could’ve happened to her was to discover the joys of being a stay-at-home mom.
Diane Passno referred to the 1975 film in her eye-opening book Feminism: Mystique or Mistake? She says, “No woman wants to play the part of one of the Stepford Wives, a movie about women whose husbands replaced them with robots. But neither should we be the robots that the feminists want us to be, accepting their definition of our roles without question. ... Because the role of ‘family nurturer’ placed women traditionally in the home, the feminist movement, as early as the mid-1960s, stressed that was the last place in the world a woman should want to be.” She goes on to say, “If the homemaker role was to be debased, the role of the man as provider and protector also had to be dismantled.”
Similarly, this remake reinforces the notion that a homemaker is a slave bound by apron strings threatening to cut off circulation to the brain—Proverbs 31 woman as fembot. It also does its best to emasculate and vilify husbands. Other targets include Republicans, corporate America and insensitive Christians.
That’s not to say there aren’t good messages here. The film tells men to love and respect their wives for who they are, and stop comparing them to unrealistic standards of beauty and perfection. It points out that love given freely is most valuable. But is it worth standing in a stream of feminist propaganda to pan for those nuggets? I guess it all depends on your worldview. How much viewers enjoy this occasionally clever, yet flawed comedy/thriller will depend on how they feel about the lifestyles and values being ridiculed onscreen.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Nicole Kidman as Joanna Eberhart; Matthew Broderick as Walter Kresby; Bette Midler as Bobbi Markowitz; Christopher Walken as Mike Wellington; Glenn Close as Claire Wellington; Jon Lovitz as Dave Markowitz; Faith Hill as Sara Sunderson; Roger Bart as Roger Bannister
Frank Oz ( )