Friday, August 23, 2019

The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives
Bryan Forbes

Joanna Eberhard (Katharine Ross) and her family move to the idyllic town of Stepford. Joanna quickly learns that she has little in common with most of the other women in town, all of whom seem stunningly beautiful and are obsessed with their husbands and domesticity. She falls in with another misfit, Bobbie (Paula Prentiss), and together they try and pull the women of Stepford together only to discover that there is something very sinister going on behind the scenes.

The cultural impact of The Stepford Wives has lessened over the years, thanks to several bad television movie sequels and the incredible misstep that was the 2014 comedy remake. Although the look of the film could be considered dated, its darkly satirical look at gender roles, their expectations, and their enforcement are even more relevant today in an era where those discussions are even more prevalent and nuanced.

"Ok, roll for initiative."
The film itself is a slow burn that allows the viewer to experience the opulence and idleness of a privileged class, while the darker elements that power that wealth slowly creep out from behind the scenes and consume the characters. This is reflected visually as the bright sunny days and often light-colored clothing of the people of Stepford which gives way to dark rainy weather, and vast shadowy interiors that serve as a physical manifestation of the labyrinth of lies and deceit closing in on Joanna.

It is the actions of the transformed wives that ride the edge between horror and comedy as they are aggressively domestic and subservient to their husbands; worshiping the men as gods in the bed, and not showing even the slightest provocation at the slight of blood. Their actions are absurd and inhuman. It’s easy to laugh about it until we see Joanna’s friend, Bobbie, normally an independent and self-assured person, suddenly become someone who simply wants to please her husband above all else. Suddenly these changes in personality aren’t so funny anymore.

"My new contacts are from the Bee Girl line of products."
I guess spoiler warnings for a four-plus decade-old movie ahead. The Stepford Wives are in fact robots, exact duplicates created by a cadre of wealthy educated rich white men. The movie hints at how these robots are developed, which each member supplying a piece of research: one is a master artist who provides sketches, another a linguistics expert who cons these women into recording their voices in such a way that he can program their duplicates and so on. Wisely the movie leaves the nuts and bolts (pun intended) of the process up to the viewer, there’s nothing really to be gained in explaining this fantastical turn of events. It also delivers a more powerful shock when we meet an unfinished android at the climax. It’s a very simple effect, but one that works well up against the seeming normality of the previous ninety minutes.

The Stepford Wives is a campy, amusing and surprisingly eerie work of satire, horror, and science-fiction. If you are willing to settle into its relaxed pace, and even with knowing what the big reveal will be, you’ll be able to enjoy its opulence… and its bite.

Special appearance by Killdozer.

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