Nothing says spooky season more than a room full of white conservatives! And that’s pretty much what The Stepford Wives is.
I decided to kick off the lead-up to Halloween by rewatching this movie, which I had only seen once or twice many years ago. So, my memory of it was pretty dim. I initially watched it to discuss it on my podcast, Unemployed with Anna, because we’re doing a little bonus content where we watch movies about getting fired and losing jobs. My producer Ellen suggested we watch it as the whole movie happens because of the lead character losing their job. I had forgotten that this movie is about job loss! That’s scary in itself.
Before revisiting it, I only remembered one thing: It’s the movie about perfect blue-eyed blonde wives who do anything for their husbands, and they’re robots … or something. Although it’s satire, it seemed all too relevant for 2020 and some scenes could even be mistaken for real footage from a rally or fundraiser happening somewhere in the country. I don’t want to get political or anything, because we have Twitter for that! I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy this movie until I made an appointment to highlight my hair after finishing it. That is how you know you’re influenced. You decide to become a Stepford wife! And now I was on my way. I thought the film was a great fit for this series, as I usually discuss movies I love that other people don’t.
Although I’m focusing on the 2004 movie, I am aware of the overall history of The Stepford Wives. There was a 1972 novel, and then the 1975 movie. But in 2004, Frank Oz directed what I consider a masterpiece. Sure, it has a 26 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but maybe Rotten Tomatoes needs to do a rewatch, like I did. Critics called it “mindless camp.” I call it, “The perfect spooky season film that also has Bette Midler in it!” (And here I thought Hocus Pocus was the only place to get our Bette fix during Halloween – wrong!)
The Stepford Wives starts with Nicole Kidman losing her job as a major reality TV producer at a network. She’s fired by another woman, which I find almost too progressive! Women running a network? Unheard of! Her husband (played by Matthew Broderick) leaves the network too and they move to the suburbs of Connecticut to start a new life. They find a big beautiful mansion and although they’re unemployed, life looks pretty glamorous! I wonder if this film resonated with me more because we’re living through a pandemic and for the first time in my life the suburbs seem nice? As I watched this in my three-day-old sweatpants, I felt like maybe the answer to everything right now is to put on a bright flowery dress, roast a chicken for my husband’s dinner, and stare out into a garden while sipping on Chardonnay. I guess I’d have to get married to make the husband part happen.
I watched this movie at the point in quarantine where I was dreaming of a new life: grass, eat-in kitchens and square footage, regardless of the circumstances about becoming a housewife. I thought to myself, “I make soup, I could put on makeup, I could become a Stepford wife!” I imagine I wouldn’t have had the same hopeful thoughts if I’d watched this five years ago. The pandemic has made me watch movies differently. The school they go to in this to become a Stepford wife is full of rich, pretty blonde women. Seems like a nice life when you’re eating ramen and coasting on unemployment insurance! Here’s the thing, these women are also robots controlled by men, but that part didn’t come up before I totally fell in love with their lifestyle. Also? Maybe it’s time we become robots. It seems like an upswing from what we’ve had to deal with this year. This movie is brilliant because it was sadly foreshadowing the nightmare of 2020. Or even 2016. Come to think of it, there are a lot of years I can compare it to … but again, Twitter is for politics!
While watching The Stepford Wives, I found myself screaming at the TV every five minutes as if it were a football game and my favorite player was just thrown into the game and scored a touchdown. (Don’t fact check me, I don’t watch football …) How did I not remember the cast of this film!? We’re talking all-star status here: Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Bette Midler, Christopher Walken, Roger Bart, and even Faith Hill! Who knew Faith Hill could act?! But she is the ultimate Stepford wife of the pop/country world, so this was actually perfect casting. She also has a huge orgasm scene that I felt was really brave to do, considering her music fans are probably religious? Just speculating here.
One of the best scenes in this movie is when the Stepford wives get together for a book club. While this is a very normal suburban mom Wednesday happy-hour activity, the books they’re reading here make me wish I had a book club. They discuss a book about “Christmas keepsakes and collectibles,” which is basically a catalogue – and I am here for it!! If you invited me over telling me that we’re reading the 2011 September issue of People magazine, I’d be the first one at the club. It’s hilarious, and also a perfect example of what book clubs could be if we do indeed become robots. Roll with me on this robot thing! Who needs emotions anymore?
The most empowering part of this movie is the end. *Spoiler alert*: The women win. It almost feels like a throwback to 2016 but, like, Hillary wins the election. Did I make this political again? Nope! Because that did not happen. During the course of the movie, Nicole Kidman and Bette Midler try to uncover the mystery of Stepford and why these women are the way they are, and Nicole finally figures it out!! They’re being programmed to be this perfect! At a fancy ball, the Stepford wife robots start to blow up because Matthew Broderick releases them and we find out that Nicole never actually changed. They’re on the same team! She’s just a really good actress. I love how meta this is, because she is, in fact, a really, really good actress. I felt like getting up and clapping.
It’s thrilling to see a group of hot women take down the patriarchy, even if it’s a small town in the suburbs of Connecticut. What’s shocking, and also exciting is that the “patriarchy” is actually headed up by Glenn Close, because her husband (Christopher Walken) had cheated on her and she wanted to get back at him. So, she turned him into a robot to make sure no one else could ruin their marriage. I think? Look, it’s a little bit of a hazy ending, but all villains make mistakes. And dare I say that women villains make fewer mistakes? Some women really do their best work when they’re depressed. (Hi, I’m one of them.) But this also made a lot of sense because Glenn Close is, of course, Cruella de Vil (with a much better wig in this movie).
If you’re looking for another spooky season movie, I highly recommend revisiting The Stepford Wives for the mystery, the big, rich suburban lifestyle, and the brilliance of Bette Midler in another role besides Winifred in Hocus Pocus!