The men of Stepford, CT believe they have found the answer to the above question. Just subject one’s present spouse to a little scientific treatment, and she will indeed be “more precious than jewels” who will do “him good and not harm all the days of her life.
Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman), a woman who has turned her back on the old housewife role by ascending to the top of a television network, is toppled from her perch when everything goes wrong with her reality show. Fired, she and her husband Walter Kresby (Matthew Broderick) leave Manhattan to start over again in the idyllic gated community of Stepford, Connecticut. Soon Joanna is worried because all the wives always smile, never complain, and can hardly wait to prepare supper for their assertive husbands. Joanna becomes very suspicious, and most suspicious of all of Mike (Christopher Walken) and Claire Wellington (Glenn Close), self-appointed welcoming committee and civic hosts. Mike, whom we discover has resented living in the shadow of his smarter and more ambitious wife, is delighted by what he sees and hears at the exclusively men’s club, where he eventually learns the dark secret of the Stepford Wives.
At first, as Joanna investigates what is going on, she finds support in Bobbie (Bette Midler) and Roger Bannister (Roger Bart), untypical in that she is a Jew and Roger gay, but they soon fall prey to the treatment that has made all other spouses into dutiful, smiling robots. As Walter becomes more accepting of the Stepford lifestyle, will she be next?
There should be good reasons, other than money, to remake an old movie, but I could find few, other than some very funny moments, in this watered down version. The 1975 original, a more straightforward horror tale coming at the height of the Women’s Liberation controversy, packed far more of a punch, carrying out the desire of MCP’s (Male Chauvinist Pigs, in case you forgot) for dutiful wives whose only desire is to stay home, tend to the house and the needs of Hubby. This time the plot is loaded with more laughs, but the twist at the end vitiates any feminist message the film might have.
Nonetheless, a group of young adults could have a good time exploring gender roles and expectations. The film opens with a series of TV commercials showing women in party dresses and heels cleaning, cooking, and joyfully tending to a myriad household chores using the latest appliances and products—is this what some conservative Christians stressing “family values” want us to go back to? Joanna says late in the film that “we don’t need to be perfect.” This is a good point to enter into an examination of the Martha Stewart philosophy of homemaking, she often using that word to describe an elaborate table decoration or dish she demonstrates on her show.