|Stepford Wives: Convivial Connivery in Connecticut|
Paramount Home Video, ASIN B0002W4UDE
The happy homemaker charade of political wives takes a fatal hit in this wicked comedy. Picture a woman running at you with cupcakes in hand. Now, picture her caddying, making change, fetching drinks -- all for a man who behaves like Little Caesar. Picture this rhapsodic wife parading through the supermarket as if its aisles lead to the coronation of Mrs. America. Picture her doing everything for her emperor except bleating: "Gimme a break, dear!"
From its first moments, this story keeps us guessing: Who runs this conspiracy? The most obvious candidate appears to be Mike Wellington, played perfectly by Christopher Walken. This actor's credits include Pulp Fiction (1994) and Blast from the Past (1999). His character's leadership of the idyllic gated Stepford community in Connecticut seems robust. Why, then, should he need to shout: "Men, control your wives! Control your wives!"
The battle between the sexes emerges as the major theme of this movie. Conformity, however, blurs one woman with another and even women with men. Thus the love of power -- the need to make others bend a subservient knee -- overcomes all other objectives. The movie leans over that fine line between commercials and craziness. What woman needs to fill her house with cupcakes as Stepford Wives do? What family, for that matter, needs a "great room" to display life-size Barbie and Ken dolls?
Furthermore, what country needs supermarkets with 97 different kinds of detergents, air fresheners, deodorants -- and no respect for the absolutely unique phenomenon? Mass produced plentitude already verges on the absurd. This social satire just took it an extra step in 2004.
The nasty secret hidden behind the hedges of this New England real estate remains total intolerance for any scrap of originality. Only newcomers reveal the slightest real talent. Long time residents show the effects of mental bludgeoning -- artificially induced stupidity. Robots simply concretize what neighbors expect of neighbors -- a meltdown into the national melting pot. Here, community leaders reserve for themselves the right to control every gasp of over-excited laughter.
The epitome of this bid for power over the pathetic citizen trying to run her own life springs at the viewer in the opening scenes. The media force a ratings week philosophy on all their employees. Then, they blame the faithful for excesses and disasters.
As an executive both honed and destroyed by this atmosphere, Nicole Kidman dramatizes life pushed past sanity. Other recent films starring this famous redhead also feature the quest to remain faithful to singular goals: The Portrait of a Lady (1996) and The Hours (2002). As her sidekick in shake-ups, shake-downs, and general trouble-making in Stepford, Bette Midler brings the desperation of Ruthless People (1986) and First Wives' Club (1996) to a setting that begs for missionaries of individuality.
Here, Glenn Close plays the unelected Queen of America. In her brilliant portrayal of utopian visionary Clare Wellington, the audience will find guile par none. It overflowed in Fatal Attraction (1987) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988). When she smiles, RUN!
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