Thursday, June 03, 2004

Built Stepford Tough

Amy. You're wired.

The secret is, it’s actually very funny.
So why would Paramount want to keep this secret a secret?
I attended a preview screening of The Stepford Wives the other night, and right from the opening credits, I, along with the rest of the packed house, was laughing. I went to the movie alone and I rarely laugh out loud when by myself in a theater or watching TV, but I must’ve laughed (real honest-to-goodness belly laughs, not just amused snorts) about thirty times during the brief duration of this movie. And in that regard, I wasn’t alone. Not only was the crowd laughing throughout (I don’t think a single gag landed with a thud – a truly exceptional feat for a comedy), but they cheered and applauded at several points.
My only caveat is that this audience seemed to be comprised precisely of the film’s target audience – namely 25 – 35 year-old women and gay men. And me. As a Hollywood movie with a strong point of view, The Stepford Wives leans left to the point of nearly toppling over. The three “good guys” in the movie are a fiercely empowered woman, a Jew and a queen, and more than that, the script’s sensibilities cater directly to those demographics. So I’m curious to see how it plays with the portion of the American audience that’s turned off by Will & Grace. However, if like me you don’t fit into that portion, it’s the (intentionally) funniest live-action movie in a long time.
Having said that, there were some semi-major logic and story holes that I easily gave a pass to because I was having such a good time, though some critics may not. To delve into them now, I would have to get into spoilers, which I don’t want to do before the movie opens.
The one non-spoiler critique I have is with the casting of Matthew Broderick. I think it’s actually a combination of the way his role is written and the casting, but even so, the actor just struck me as wrong for the role. I think he’s very talented and like him a lot, but that is the problem. He’s too likable. Even when he’s playing “darker” characters (the under-rated Addicted to Love and one of my all-time favorites, Election), you’re still rooting for him. In The Stepford Wives, you’re not supposed to. The original choice, John Cusack, would’ve been a much better fit. Even though he also usually plays likable guys, he’s shown an edgier, more chauvinistic before (I know women who hated him in another of my faves, High Fidelity).
Yet, I actually can’t imagine John’s sister, the brilliant Joan, who was originally cast in Bette Midler’s role being any more perfect than Midler. She and Jon Lovitz (hell, Christopher Walken, too) often are too much, but they’re both used just enough in Stepford to maximum effect. Glenn Close, more than anyone else, takes even the so-so bits and makes them hysterical. Nicole Kidman is a more-than-solid straight woman who gets in her share of yuks. The real breakout scene-stealer here is Roger Bart, a stage actor who’ll be reprising his role (and reuniting with Broderick and Kidman) in the filmed version of the musical version of The Producers.
So why is Paramount, according to David Poland in today’s Movie City News 15 Weeks of Summer, hiding this gem? Maybe they’re afraid that critics will be gunning for it because of its well-reported on-set troubles, though keeping it from reviewers doesn’t help. And besides, everyone knows troubled productions often make for great movies. It also could be that the movie just hasn’t been finalized yet. It appeared to me that a lot had been left on the cutting room floor (hence the logic and story holes), and when I re-watched the trailer, I noticed a few bits that weren’t in the version I saw. Still, if I were at Paramount, I would’ve sneaked it this weekend (catching those adult members of the target audience not interested in wizards and blizzards and ogres) and let word-of-mouth spread before critics get their manicured claws out and start pulling Stepford's fiberoptic hair.


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