June 25, 2005

MOVIES: Bewitched (Nora Ephron, 2005)

The original TV version of Bewitched was successful (aside from the fact that it was funny) because it spoke to so many audiences. It managed to please both feminists -- Samantha had all the power -- and anti-feminists -- she used that power almost entirely in service of her husband's goals and desires; it was easily read as an allegory about an interracial marriage, or about a gay couple (not by accident was she usually called "Sam," after all).

The new movie version makes a half-hearted attempt at a story about female empowerment, but it never achieves even the sitcom-deep level of thought that the TV show managed. Granted, the movie isn't as horrifically awful as the buzz would have you believe, but it's pretty bad. A lot of good actors (Amy Sedaris, Steven Colbert, Richard Kind, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Badalucco, Steve Carell) are wasted in very tiny parts, and the idea of making the story about a remake of Bewitched never really works.

It's not the fault of the cast, who generally do fine work, given the limitations of the material. Nicole Kidman is sweet and charming as Isobel, the witch hired to play Samantha, and Will Ferrell is in his comfort zone as Jack, the blustering egotist who's playing Darrin. (Ferrell really needs to take on a different type of role, though, very soon.) Michael Caine is very funny as Isobel's flirtatious father, and the movie could have used more of Shirley MacLaine's Endora. Only Carole Shelley feels miscast as Aunt Clara (who, somewhat confusingly, is Isobel's aunt in the "real world," not Samantha's aunt in the TV show); she's not quite dithery enough. (It's a shame that Joan Plowright, who was originally cast, had to drop out; she'd have been ideal.)

But the writing here is terrible. The jokes aren't very funny, and Jack is such an overbearing ass that it's impossible to understand Isobel's attraction to him. The characters are inconsistently drawn; Isobel veers from being so naive that she doesn't know what the word "dick" means to being a sharp, scheming conniver.

The creative thinking seems to have stopped here after the initial idea to make a meta-story about the making of Bewitched, and without a decent script, the actors are left to flounder. Disappointing; with this cast, the movie should have been amazing.

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