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The Stepford Wives - Preview & US reaction



Preview by: Jack Foley

OSCAR-winning actress, Nicole Kidman, has opted to take a break from her serious roles, for a change, and gone for comedy, with the upcoming release of The Stepford Wives.

Based on the book by Ira Levin, the film is also a remake of the 1975 adaptation, which cast Katharine Ross in the lead role, and became a horror classic.

The re-working is described as a ‘fearful, yet wonderfully satirical take’ on the 1950s housewives’ tale, and is directed by Frank Oz, with a cast including Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Bette Midler and Christopher Walken.

It finds Kidman and Broderick as a couple who arrive in the quaint suburban town of Stepford, Connecticut, to find that the women have been transformed by their husbands into totally submissive, near-robots.

Far from being put out by this, however, the women seem overly happy and totally compliant.

The new arrivals must therefore figure out where they fall in this web of weirdness.

Advance word on the film has been mixed, to say the least, despite its stellar cast. While filming, for instance, there were several reports on onset friction, but the trailers, which have been doing the rounds for some time, seemed to suggest the mix had been got just right.

In fact, one of the trailers for the film has proved so memorable, that it cleaned up at the Fifth Annual Golden Trailer Awards, held recently in Los Angeles.

The trailer in question depicts the idyllic '50s town of Stepford, into which Kidman is immersed, following a breakdown after losing her high-profile job.

It grabbed the ‘most original, Summer 2004 blockbuster’ category, as well as ‘Best of Show Trailers’ and ‘Most Original’.
The success has gone some way to glossing over the reports of onset friction, which director, Oz, confirmed had taken place in an interview with the New York Daily News.

He simply commented: "Tension on the set? Absolutely! In every movie I do, there's tension. That's the whole point. And working people hard, that's exactly what they expect me to do."

According to the report, Oz had butted heads with both Midler and Walken, with the former's rep subsequently issuing a statement, confirming that the actress had been under a lot of stress and had ‘made the mistake of bringing her stress on the set’.

Oz, too, confessed that he and Walken had ‘a shouting match one day’, but wrote it off by insisting that he had shared similar words with many other actors in his time as director.

"At the end of the day, Chris was fantastic," he maintained. "This is like kids fighting for turf and then they're friends again."

US reaction

The film opened in US cinemas on June 11 and has been roundly slated in the States.

Entertainment Weekly led the pack, by declaring that ‘in the new town of Stepford, there's no bitterness, no struggle, no competition, none of the scars of the sexual revolution’.

While Variety noted that ‘audiences that find themselves laughing at first will likely be fidgeting as the pic drifts toward a peculiar if oddly predictable climax, requiring - much like the Stepford women - that brains be checked at the door’.

The Arizona Republic wrote that ‘it displays all the intellectual heft of a beer commercial - light beer at that’.

And the Washington Post concluded that it is ‘an empty comedy that takes hackneyed potshots at consumerism’.

The Chicago Tribune lamented that ‘trying to be more antic and cuttingly funny, it misses the premise's shivery tension’, while Rolling Stone concluded, simply, that ‘the sting is gone’.

The Hollywood Reporter, meanwhile, declared that it ‘represents the kind of lame brainstorm that finds its way onto a summer release schedule’.

There were some positives, however, notably from USA Today, which wrote that ‘you feel some of the strain in this immaculately shot, designed and costumed farce, but it's fast and the cast is lively’.

And from Hollywood.com, which opined: "The Stepford Wives may not be as perfect as Stepford's manufactured denizens but, supported by a fabulous cast, it produces some genuine belly laughs just the same."

But, for the most part, critics were unimpressed.

Newsday wrote that ‘all the efforts of director Frank Oz and writer Paul Rudnick to make the story funny feel slightly desperate and very strained’.

And the Seattle Post-Intelligencer concludes this overview by stating that ‘the film's creepier moments are pathetically weak, and its thematic update fails to attain the minimal credibility that even a wild farce needs to sustain itself’.

It is due to open in UK cinemas on July 30.

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