A friend of mine who had just watched this film told me that once I saw it, the term "Stepford Wife" would enter our lexicon of references. He was right about that.
Joanna moves with her husband to Stepford, CT. While Walter is at work, Joanna and her new friend Bobbie are both appalled at the behavior of the wives of Stepford, a bunch of milfs who all seem to have come from dish-washing detergent commercials.
At first, I thought that this film too deeply resembled "Rosemary's Baby". The couple moves into a new place and slowly realizes that something bizarre is going on, although it doesn't appear life-threatening. The difference becomes more and more obvious, and the married couple grows further and further apart. The oddities in both films put their heroines in an ominous subtlety that they find frustrating or almost impossible to explain to other members of the cast, and the women wonder if it is they, themselves who are the oddities.
The strategy is rather obvious; after about four months, the men take their wives off to a "weekend getaway," and when the couple returns the wife is another brain-dead subservient slave to her husband. The wives sure don't catch this, even though it appears as though the suspicious Joanna and Bobby probably would have figured it out. Its technical and social references make the film appear dated; It is quite laughable that the Stepford Wives could get their entire vocabulary from recording their voices into a microphone. I also don't see what is so shocking about a guy groping his girl on the front lawn--hey, some of us do that all the time!
Where the film works is in its payoff, which surprisingly, I didn't predict. I thought that these women were being hypnotized or lobotomized, or something else. Where it becomes chilling and eerie, is when we learn that indeed, these women will never return to their original selves. I figured Joanna's friend Bobbie would "snap out of it," however, Joanna stabs her, and the model goes haywire--this isn't Bobbie--Bobbie is dead. Looking back, certain clues for us are eerie, like Walter's first dream-like encounter with a Stepford wife, or even hilarious, like one man's smiling expression along with his "thumbs up," gesture as he tears up his wife's tennis court to make room for his new swimming pool.
And then there is Joanna's final scene, which holds up disturbingly well, as does the thought that the wives were created by someone who used to work at Disneyland. I think that deep-down we all find animatronic humanoids quite creepy, as there seems to be an almost sinister magic behind the lovable robots on the rides we enjoyed as children and still do today. When we meet Janet's stacked (nice touch!) replica, she appears without eyes. It is an image and a haunting ending that probably couldn't be as frightening if it were done today (oh yeah, they are remaking it). I'm glad I didn't see this film as a child.
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