I feel like The Stepford Wives movies are cheating. As we’ve been learning about them, here in CraveOnline‘s The Series Project, we have seen that the bulk of the Stepford movies are pretty bad. While they do have to be graded on a curve – three of them are made-for-TV movies from the ’80s and ’90s, and standards are decidedly different in such a medium – it’s still hard to look past the clunky melodrama and knee-jerk topicality that TV movies are so often susceptible to.
No matter how clunky and obvious and bad the films get, however, they still frustratingly possess author Ira Levin’s original sophisticated themes of sexism, infecting them with a poignancy and thoughtfulness that they don’t deserve. So when Donna Mills is stalking about Stepford, looking for a way to undo her husband’s chemical brainwashing, oblivious to the fact that Louise Fletcher may be spying on her, and the audience is crushed into their seats by a sense of incredulous boredom, you still find yourself saying things like “Y’know, this movie’s making some good points.”
Last week, I looked at the famed 1975 original, which is still something of a classic, and the first two TV movies to be based on it, Revenge of the Stepford Wives, and The Stepford Children. This week, we’ll be trekking into the 1990s with The Stepford Husbands, and then we’ll see the series crash and burn with the infamous 2004 remake starring Nicole Kidman. A preview: They’re both pretty bad.
Let’s dive in and finish these suckers off…
The Stepford Husbands (dir. Fred Walton, 1996)
It asks the questions, but doesn’t answer. Although, as I said in the intro, it does bring up some interesting notions about gender dynamics that the thuddingly dull drama doesn’t deserve.
In this universe, for instance, the male slaves are not taut supermodels or sexually alluring in any way. Indeed, the male drones in this universe seem to eschew all sexual passion for quiet obedience. When a man designs his dream woman in the Stepford universe, she is typically a dumb bunny, well-dressed, demure, quiet, and only interested in looking after the home. But, at the same time, she is a wildcat in bed. In The Stepford Husbands, the men are brainwashed into making meals for their wives, and never watching sporting events. The men are robbed of the typical “male” habits of childlike broodiness and testosterone-laced aggression. The Stepford Husbands are also just as boring as the Stepford Wives, just without the bedroom prowess.
The original Stepford was about male control and the insidiously persistent 1950s housewife standard for women that society – however modern – still can’t seem to shake. In 1996, though, a mild zeitgeist rattling had rolled around in the form of the “sensitive New Age guy.” Masculinity seen as a detriment to many, and we males were suddenly expected to do more than be broodish, insensitive, violent, lecherous, rude, self-indulgent, callous, immature, confrontational, boorish assholes. As such, masculinity was “under attack.” It was essentially a fearful backlash to seemingly overzealous feminism.
The Stepford Husbands implies, though, that women are so career-oriented that their husbands have evolved into distractions. Their desires are not about fulfilling some sort of suburban ideal with an ideal man. Their desires now skew more toward having slaves. It’s about a sort of cultural revenge.
Jodi Davison (Donna Mills, buried in makeup and looking old for her age) is a graphic designer who has moved to Stepford to patch up her tempestuous marriage with her angry author husband Mick (Michael Ontkean). It’s not long before the women of the town (represented by Louise Fletcher and Cindy Williams) begin inviting her to parties, and not-so-subtly hinting that her husband may be a burden, and wouldn’t it be keen if he were on a regiment of mind-erasing drugs? No robots this time around. Just brainwashing.
I’ve talked too much about this film. Let’s move on. The series kind of ended here, and was rebooted in 2004 as a comedy film. And an awful one too. Let’s look at…