Published Jul 01, 2005Ripe for social satire, the original TV show Bewitched always had a wonky anti-feminism core. Samantha was a witch with seemingly omnipotent powers available to her at the wiggle of her nose, but she was still a domesticated wife-y confined to a sitcom kitchen and living room where her main role was to have dinner on the table and entertain nosy guests.
Nora Ephron's big screen update of Bewitched is sort of an interesting failure; it's not quite a cynical sitcom cash-in but instead a meta-fictional reworking of the retrograde premise of the original show. Unfortunately, it's also quite a mirthless exercise despite the desperate parade of pratfalls and plot twists.
Nicole Kidman acquits herself well as a witch named Isabel, who wants to fall in love with a mortal and truly be "needed" by someone. She's oddly unwise to the workings of the earthly world, spending her first day in her new house delighting in the miracles of lawn sprinklers and microwave popcorn (she opens about a hundred cans of soda because she's so tickled by the satisfying "pop-fizz" sound it makes). Enter Will Ferrell, who plays the vain, self-obsessed, but truly insecure actor who unwittingly hires real-life witch Isabel to play Samantha to his Darren in an updated version of Bewitched - one in which, Darren, of course, is the star of the show.
Ephron clearly wanted to say something about men being threatened by powerful women and the inequities that still exist in Hollywood but she's got tunnel vision. Her La-la-wood perspective has little to do with real-life feminism, and even at that her broad satire of male paranoia is ultimately toothless. Her Pollyanna ending seems to say that men and women can finally be equal if they... fall in love with each other?
The unconvincing romance was clearly airlifted into the story as a desperate crowd-pleaser. Will Ferrell seems to sense that desperation and pulls out all the sketch comedy tricks in his bag, and he's funny once or twice, but Ephron has a heavy hand behind the camera, so she has no idea how to sell a joke visually. This is a decided liability in a movie that depends on a lot of pratfalls and sight-gags (Kidman's broomstick ride sequence seems more obligatory than giddy).
Even the script is filled with lazy, knee-jerk humour, and I think it's about time that Nora Ephron lost her credibility as a great comedic screenwriter. I can't think of a funny line she's written since When Harry Met Sally. (Columbia/Sony)