Harried television executive Joanna (Nicole Kidman) moves to a Connecticut suburb with her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) and their two children. Once there, she finds the women a little…strange. They’re happy, they love to cook and clean, and they’re just a little personality-deficient. When her new friends Roger (Roger Bart) and Bobbie (Bette Midler) surrender to the town’s wacky ways, she gets frantic to escape—and finds she can’t.
I discovered Ira Levin’s novel and the original film adaptation of the book as a teenager, and I loved them both. When the remake came out, I was furious but still went to see it in the theatre. I hated it. With time, I’ve come to appreciate it more. It was written by Paul Rudnick, who did Addams Family Values and Jeffrey, one of the few romantic comedies I can stomach (because it’s about two guys). I appreciate the contemporizing of the movie. Joanna is not a housewife with one hobby as in the original, but a career woman who makes a lot more than her husband, who is threatened by her; as he says later, she is better than him at everything. She’s also taller than him–Kidman is 5’11”, while Broderick is 5’8″ (thank you, IMDB). Kidman even gets top billing. The fact that a movie about women being used like puppets is directed by Frank Oz is a delicious irony.
While I like the movie a little more every time I see it, it still gets on my nerves big-time. Most of the jokes are corny, and it baffles me why a gay guy would want to write a movie so concerned with lampooning gender roles but include a terrifically stereotypical gay couple. It’s also ironic that the movie glosses over completely the subject of racism that the book, written in the mid-1970s, acknowledges, when the neighborhood is surprised at a Black family moving in. I enjoy Bette Midler, but maybe Bobbie could have been a person of color instead.
What gets to me the most about the movie is the plot holes. In the source material, the women are replaced completely by robots and presumably killed. In the remake the robot body idea was kept, but the women have nanochips installed in their brain. The nanochips also somehow give the wives the ability to grow their breasts at their husbands’ whim and dispense money like an ATM machine. Also, why is there a “nanoreversal” option? I also wonder who does the “improved” womens’ hair and picks their wardrobe. IMDB describes massive rewrites at the behest of test audiences and the studio, so I probably have to cut somebody some slack.
The cast, which includes Christopher Walken, Glenn Close, and Faith Hill, is enjoyable. There are occasional funny moments, like the exchange between Bobbie and her husband Dave (Jon Lovitz): Dave: “Did you finish the laundry?” Bobbie: “No, I finished a chapter.” Dave: “Did you make the sandwiches?” Bobbie: “Did you?” I also find Joanna and Walter’s smart house amusing, as it keeps track of everything: “We need juice. We need juice. We need juice.” I like the score, with its “eerie waltz” and “suspenseful theme.” Overall, I enjoy the film in small doses.