USA Today - 'Stepford Wives' ladies mock their robo-characters, June 9th 2004
Nicole Kidman is feeling a little loopy on rum cake. Glenn Close, Bette Midler and Faith Hill are talking a blue streak.
Their brains obviously haven't been implanted with a chip that keeps them sober, quiet and compliant like the women in The Stepford Wives.
The update of the 1975 thriller in which men turn their wives into subservient automatons is played for laughs, they say, but not necessarily because the concept seems more laughable than it did 29 years ago.
Post-millennial men in the supposedly enlightened Western world still want women who are always agreeable, cooking, cleaning and supplying hot sex on demand, said the foursome, sitting on sofas around a coffee table.
"Of course!" Midler exclaims, as Hill and Close concur.
A droopy-eyed Kidman has to be prodded to weigh in, then says: "I had a whole rum cake and I'm crashing from the sugar. ... I'm like: 'Yeah, whatever you say.' There's real rum in that, right?"
The others laugh uproariously.
"If anybody's honest, they want a beautiful, perfectly bodied woman who will do whatever he wants, whenever he wants," Midler says, returning to the subject.
"Yeah, that's a dream," Hill adds.
"You have to answer these questions, not us," Kidman challenges.
"I just think it's in the species," the 57-year-old Close says. "Women get older, we've had our kids. And I think it's actually in our genetic makeup that men tend to want women who are younger."
(And hey, what woman wouldn't want a Stepford spouse sometimes? The new movie slightly acknowledges that by including a gay couple.)
Midler, 58, also suggests that TV and movies push certain fashions and youthful body types. "But in real life, I see all sorts of people walking around and they look perfectly happy. And they don't have to play Stepford Wives. They look healthy, and some of them look like slobs. But they have mates. ...
"I guess that's why Marlene Dietrich used to say: 'No wonder we get paid so much - nobody looks like us!'" she says, adding: "Nobody looked like her."
Kidman, who turns 37 on June 20, offers that how people look in a film or fashion magazine is an illusion anyway. Makeup, lighting, camera angles and other artifices play a part.
Then she blurts out: "My God, there was definitely rum in that. Definitely." She reclines on the sofa, making the other three crack up again. "I feel it. ... It was drenched (in rum). Woo!"
She's drinking some coffee but it hasn't kicked in yet and that "means that I'm loose-tongued."
"Uh-oh," the others chorus.
Rather than a satire about the male-female relations, the film that co-stars Matthew Broderick, Christopher Walken and Jon Lovitz can be seen as a commentary on the makeover shows now popular on television. (The filmmakers see the film as "a subversive and comic look at rampant consumerism and the quest for perfection.")
Close points out their movie was kind of prescient since they started making it before that genre hit it big.
"I find that disturbing," Hill says of such shows as The Swan. "They take these people and they give them a complete makeover - a life-changing experience - and then they have to determine at the end of the show, well, who goes on to the pageant. So basically what they're saying is that even after all that, you're still not good enough."
Midler wonders whether the makeover subjects think they'll be loved afterward: "There's somehow this illusion that if you change the way you look, you'll be happier."
Close notes there's an epidemic of obesity in the United States so that may be part of those shows' appeal, too. "You're there sitting and you're 200 pounds ..."
But, Kidman says: "It's easy for us to sit and judge."
"I don't sit in judgment," Midler interjects. "We're in a business that manufactures dreams ... and we're all in on it. This is a free country. You can't sit and say, 'So-and-so is a bad person for, you know, getting a chin implant. You can't do that."
Hill, the country music star who's making her screen acting debut in The Stepford Wives, adds: "If it makes them feel better about themselves, then there's absolutely nothing wrong with that."
"The irony is that ultimately it doesn't necessarily make you feel better about yourself," Midler says.
Kidman, who's reading the new book The Bastard on the Couch which focuses on men's feelings, suggests that the shows' popularity might be indicative of deep depression, widespread loneliness and other issues that are far more complicated than surface appearances.
Fashion does, however, separate Stepford Wives from the free-thinking women in the movie. The gals in the fictional Connecticut exurb who've been quasi-lobotomized wear candy-colored clothes while Kidman's character - a former network TV president who specialized in low-concept, battle-of-the-sexes reality shows - wears mostly black.
Her husband (Broderick) asks her to lighten her palette, indelicately asserting that only "castrating" Manhattan career women wear black.
In real life, the movie's quartet of actresses aren't in lockstep on that issue.
Hill is the only one wearing basic black on this day. "I have a closet full of color and look what I wore today," she says.
"I LOVE color," Kidman says.
So does Midler. "I'm so sick of black. ... I just can't do it anymore. It's not flattering to your skin. It might be flattering to YOUR skin," Midler says to Hill. "I look like a corpse walking around in black."
Close throws in: "I'm a beige and taupe person."
Everyone laughs as Close explains she gets intimidated because once you get something pink you have to get a pink purse.
"You don't have to get a pink purse," Midler advises. "Put your hands in your pockets. Didn't you learn anything from Katharine Hepburn?"
Another rhetorical question is how far the sexes have come in parity and understanding in the three decades since the original movie was released.
All agree that the film isn't meant to serve as a weighty examination of that, nor is it meant to depict suburbia as a suffocating setting for conformity.
"It's a really big, bold, broad summer blockbuster kind of picture," Midler says. "I never get to be in any of those."
"Neither do I?" Kidman chimes in, giggling.
"Dogville!" she says loudly, cracking up. "What the hell was that?"
"I want to walk through life with grace and dignity and generosity and never take it all for granted."
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