The years postdating 2003 have not been very kind to me. There are a number of reasons for this, but that is a matter for another time. The simple fact we are dealing with today is the overwhelming shittiness of a film called The Stepford Wives.
No, not that Stepford Wives. Not the good Stepford Wives. The other one. Important to understand is that even compared to today, Hollywood had a real raging hard-on for remakes in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And as I have already written in a number of other articles dealing with films, Hollywood does not remake films with the hope or even consideration of improving the film in question. Hollywood remakes films with the sole intent of remaking the money that the original or previously-released form made or did not make.
Let us not eat up those Hollywood myths. The major film industry is not a glamorous, wondrous business. It is one of the most cynical and ignoble businesses both in the world and the history of Homo sapiens. It was not always this way, at least not to the extent we are talking now. Sure, it has always had a tradition of some very anti-competitive and conspiratorial behaviour. But what a lot of people looking at it solely from today’s perspective do not understand is that in the days before Walt Disney‘s proposed business model became the standard, films largely won or lost based on their own merits rather than the chicanery of marketeers. And even then, audience recognition or awareness was a vital element of the business. If one could latch onto an existing idea that an audience already had ideas about, it made the job of marketing the film to audiences that little bit easier.
That is the primary reason why, at some point in the 1990s, idiots conceived of the idea of remaking the 1975 Bryan Forbes film The Stepford Wives. The 1975 production is one of the few examples of a good film that had a relatively easy gestation process. Whilst all films have birthing pains to some degree, the 1975 Stepford Wives at least had a creative team who were in unity and had a discernible goal. But I dispute the absolute nobility of the 1975 production. Any film where an early exchange consists of “Daddy, I just saw a man carrying a naked lady” followed by “Well, that’s why we’re moving to Stepford” is already making me uneasy. But we will save that discussion for another time.
Right off the bat, the 2004 production of The Stepford Wives has a problem. Although every film, just like every business, is conceived with the idea of making money, the 2004 version was conceived with the idea of making money in the most cynical, base manner you can imagine.
For the record, I do not think that Frank Oz is a bad director. His resumé is somewhat mediocre, true, but when a director has titles like The Dark Crystal, What About Bob?, and Bowfinger to their credit, they have demonstrated a capability to pull more than this out of their proverbial. But from my point of view, it appears that the real problem on this film can be traced back to one of the most fundamental components of a director’s job. That is, the director has to make sure that everyone else on the film, from the cinematographer to the idiot bringing lunch to everyone on the set, has the same kind of idea of the film they were making. Oz never had a chance on The Stepford Wives.
If you look at the cast lists of both productions, for starters, you notice a big problem on the 2004 production. Whereas the 1975 film was populated by a cast that consisted of unknowns, the sizes of the egos in the first-billed cast of the 2004 film would make a Star Trek producer wince.
For example, a quote I heard second-hand has it that Bette Midler said that the Stepford Wives in the 2004 production were “every” man’s ultimate fantasy. Jesus. Just like everyone likes pop? You see, what we desire in others is often a reflection of ourselves. Midler, for example, has demonstrated time and again that she is every autistic adult’s worst nightmare. A type that seriously believes that anyone who does not spit her feeble little mind back at her is automatically wrong and should not be allowed to even speak. And her behaviour reveals something very ugly in terms of mentality. I have personally witnessed family members (mother, mainly) viewing a DVD of Midler in which she starts enunciating the names of action stars such as Bruce Willis (his is the one I remember most because she spoke it in a manner commensurate with him being convicted of child molestation). Midler, I have some things I would like to tell you in response to this. Please take the time to listen. You might salvage your credibility as a Human by taking notice:
- The audience of the adolescent and young adult male is the one that has kept the entire film and entertainment industry afloat for most of the past forty years. Whilst it is true that catering exclusively to them is hardly a good thing, without their money and their custom, you and everyone else in the industry would have had to get a job more commensurate with their ability to do good in the world long ago. Picking up shit or collecting garbage comes to mind in your case.
- Just because a film is entirely aimed at a specific audience (males aged between 13 and 30 in this instance) does not necessarily mean it will appeal solely to that audience. You are not the sole example of feminism that girls can (and should not) aspire to. For instance, I happen to know a woman who was born in Norway whom I would bet money on if she were in a fight with Dolph Lundgren, Jason Statham, and Chuck Norris. The likelihood that she would go and see whatever dribble you deem worthy of your attention, as opposed to something like The Forbidden Kingdom or Equilibrium (which she herself has told me is one of the more creative attempts to fuse gunplay with martial arts), is less than none.
- And whilst we are on the subject, just because you consider something to be good does not mean either that it actually is good or that it is the sole example of what is good. Some of the films that you have been associated with, in fact, have been some of the most manipulative and hokey trash that I remember even getting wind of.
With this Death Star-size ego running around on the set, combined with constant changes in the cast and script, it comes as no surprise that even Frank Oz could not salvage something out of this mess. A good example of this is the roles that were vacated by John and Joan Cusack. John was apparently lined up to play the heroine’s husband. He was replaced with Matthew Broderick. Matthew Broderick is a fairly decent guy. He can salvage terrible roles or even bring roles with a strong disaster potential to glory (Ferris Bueller comes to mind). However, it does not take a genius to work out that the role was intended for a very different type to Matthew Broderick. Amongst a male cast that is meant to fit a certain alpha male stereotype to some degree, he sticks out like a sore thumb. There is one line in the film where he states to his character’s wife that he loves her because she challenges him to be better than he would be otherwise. (This is one of the many criteria I have internalised for a wife-to-be, by the way.) But coming from a man as weedy and perpetually adolescent-looking as Broderick, this line has the weight of the world against it. Had John Cusack delivered that line, the manner in which he would deliver the rest of the dialogue would add so much weight to it that it would have worked. As demonstrated by films like Grosse Pointe Blank; War, Inc.; or even his small role in Stand By Me, it would have worked because he very easily occupies the role of the alpha male who can kick every ass in the alpha male club. Coming from him, “I love you because you make me want to be better than I usually am” would me like the secret of life itself to an audience.
Joan Cusack, the elder of the two by slightly less than four years, would have been magic in the Bette Midler role. How do I know this? Well, it is like John. I have seen her working with him on Grosse Pointe Blank and War, Inc.. Bette Midler‘s “I am so feminist that even future generations of women should be terrified of me” act falls so flat because she has no sense of moderation (I think I have covered that and then some). Joan Cusack, however, knows how to balance things so that the audience gets just the right amount for the desired effect. When Bette Midler gets Stepfordised in this film, even Powell aspies like myself are inclined to point and laugh at her. Nelson Muntz style. Do the same to the kind of performance that Joan Cusack puts in during Grosse Pointe Blank, however, and that same sense of rage gets directed at the people who did that to her character. Where it should be, in other words.
When you add that to the problem with Frank Oz, it is a wonder that the film turned out as well as it did. When you are director on a film, the proverbial buck stops with you. In the HBO television series Band Of Brothers, one episode details a problem with a commanding officer by the name of Dike. The problem that the unit has with Dike, to hear it from the narrator (I think in this case it was Lipton narrating), was not that he made bad decisions. The problem was that even when one puts a gun to his head, he is unable to make any decision. Oz has stated that he had too much money, was too concerned for the producers, and failed to follow his instincts. Whilst I cannot speak for Frank Oz, my instinct on that film would have been to sack Midler at the first hint of her usual egoism (Oz himself says she “made the mistake of bringing her stress on set”). But I also would have made sure the casting agent brought the right woman to the role after Joan Cusack vacated. Sigourney Weaver is one example.
But the real problem in this case is evident from the second half of the first paragraph in the Wikipedia article’s “Producton” section. Someone (probably Midler) demanded rewrites, and numerous changes were made to the script that created plot holes so big that the cast had to come back to reshoot significant parts of the film. Two moments in the film signal this so loudly and clearly to the audience that one would need to be totally ignorant of the industry’s practises to not see this as an obvious rewrite.
The first scene in this gag involves Broderick’s character visiting the big “men’s club” nearly halfway into the film. This scene is where the men in the town reveal how it is they have such servile, docile wives. Unlike the original production, where we discover this information slowly as the heroine investigates the matter, the men’s club just pretty much throws the whole deck of cards on the table in this one scene. In it, one of the men, I forget which, puts what appears to be a credit card into the mouth of one of the Stepford women. She makes computer-like sounds for a few moments, then spits out a (small pile of) bill(s).
From that scene, we are given a very clear impression that, as was the case in the original 1975 film, the men of Stepford are disappearing their wives and replacing them with servile robots. But in the film’s climax, from tell-rather-than show dialogue, we are told something almost exactly opposed. That the wives of Stepford have electronic devices planted in their brains (forget the physical-medical implications for a second) that render them the servile drones that Bette Midler thinks that men like Christopher Walken or John Cusack would give two fukks for in their real lives. In the film’s climax, something that Matthew Broderick‘s character does something (I told you it has been a while since I saw this piece of shit) that causes all of these chips to short out, which instantly returns the wives to “normal”. Le sigh. Apparently, whomever wrote this portion of the script seriously expects even the most tech-illiterate person to believe that an electronic device (and it would have to be a pretty substantial one to be able to replicate all the functions a Stepford Wife is expected to perform) can just “short out” within a person’s brain without killing them.
The film also went down a real treat with audiences of the time. The Bette Midler fad of the late 1980s had well and truly died by this point, so she finally got a taste of the fact that young women such as the one I was dating at the time considered her utterly irrelevant. The world’s audiences took a small, piddling look at the film, and declared “meh” to such an extent that the studio had to order their accounting department to find creative ways to write off forty million dollars.
Had I been directing this piece, my ending would have been very different. If I was expected to end it on a “positive” note, I would end it by having the women (among whom, Bette Midler would be conspicuously absent) fight angrily against their “programming” and go after all the men around them. Regardless of whether that man is on board with the whole Stepford thing. Because he who is silent is understood to consent. But anyway, the last shot would be of the Stepford women tearing certain bits off the Christopher Walken character and parading them around, including shots where said bits would be in front of the camera. Yes, I just described the ending of The Incredible Torture Show, or Bloodsucking Freaks as it is also known. Unfortunately, nobody came up for a title for that film that acronymises as SHIT (Servile Hippy Idiot Termites just came to mind), which is what it mostly is. But even so, it has moments (like the aforementioned savaging of the villains by their formerly enslaved women) that put it far above the 2004 production of The Stepford Wives.
During one lecture I attended at which Geoff Portmann spoke, I offered up a significant portion of my writing technique. Portmann stated that the standard procedure was to decide what the theme of the story being told after the characters, events, and progression of the story was determined. Not so for me. I decide upon a theme, then look into what my cast is and what happens to them throughout. This is because, for me, coming up with a theme is extremely fukking easy. In fact, it is even easier than discerning a plot, characters, or progression. Why? Well, it is like this. When I watch a film or listen to music, what stands out to me the most is the general feeling of each scene or progression of notes. For instance, when RoboCop wakes from his dream and marches out of the precinct to the tune of one of the best things Basil Poledouris ever composed (which is saying a lot), the filmmakers are telegraphing to the audience that RoboCop feels enraged, and so should they. By the way, I cannot believe I just sullied RoboCop by mentioning any of its elements in context with this piece of shit film.
This is a stark contrast to The Stepford Wives circa 2004, and its most fatal flaw. It cannot make up its mind what it wants to be. Although it is simply billed as a science fiction on the Wikipedia, there are clear attempts to blend that with horror and comedy, all to no real positive effect. Freddy’s Dead is a (slightly) better film because even though embracing the comedy aspect was the wrong decision, it does so wholeheartedly. As Roddy Piper says to Keith David towards the end of the first act in They Live, the white line is in the middle of the road, and that is the worst place to drive. The Stepford Wives circa 2004 does not embrace science fiction, it does not embrace any of its admittedly feeble attempts at comedy, and in contrast to the 1975 original, its only real decision in this respect is to run screaming from the horror. In fact the single most effective shot in the 1975 original is so effective because it grabs the most important aspect of horror as a genre and embraces it like a long-lost child. The Stepford Wives circa 2004, due to all the rampant egos and Frank Oz‘s inability to control them, to make a real decision, ends up right in the middle of the road.
And that is the worst place to drive.
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