Saturday, October 9, 2010


"Bewitched" (Nora Ephron, 2005) The all-star movie version of the TV classic "Bewitched" left me bothered and bewildered.

Yeah, yeah. Cute line and all that, but essentially true; How on God's green Earth could Ephron and her sister-conspirator in this crime have screwed up a sure thing like "Bewitched?"

The show, which debuted on ABC in the early 60's was fairly inspired for the first four years, then ran on auto-broom for the rest of its run, largely on the spell of star Elizabeth Montgomery's spunkiness, and an ever-decreasing number (due to age and death) of eccentric co-stars.  It may seem like stretching the social point a bit, but "Bewitched" was a flighty, goofy examination of the trials of a "mixed" marriage...without risking the wrath of any of the Southern States!*  And on top of that, despite piggish (more like ape-ish) husband Darrin's constant attempts to repress her heritage, house-witch Samantha Stevens always managed to display female empowerment, while being blithely supportive of her wage-slave husband.  Like she couldn't "twitch" herself a mink coat whenever she wanted.  I know an awful lot of women, who, as little girls, looked up to Samantha as a symbol of power under wise restraint, superior in all things man-world, and only able to be "super-mom" because she had what all mom's have...a touch of magic.  These girls wanted to be Samantha: charming, but flinty, capable of holding all the power in the world, but only when necessary—holding the Power, but dispensing it with Wisdom.

So, with all that going for it, why did the Ephron sisters have the effrontery to completely ignore what worked about "Bewitched," and toss it in favor of a complicated scenario in which a real-live witch (Nicole Kidman, playing her second witch after "Practical Magic") wants to live in the "muggle" world, free of witchcraft (rebelling, in other words), and, despite this, manages to get herself cast in a real-life return to television of a "Bewitched" TV show (live action, with an audience?  With all those effects?!!), which stars two perfectly awful co-stars (Will Farrell and Shirley MacLaine, playing, respectively, "the guy who plays Darrin" and "the old bat who plays Endora"), with conjured-up egos who are stark contrasts to Kidman's magical neophyte actress.  Of course, the lead actors are fire and brimstone, but somehow manage to "fall in deep" with each other, thus scraping the edge off Ferrell's blow-hard, and completely nullifying any respect the audience might have been feeling for Kidman's good little witch.  The scenario, frankly, makes her look like a moron, nose-twitch or no.**

The movie is off-balanced anyway, with more attention payed to Ferrell's actor than to Kidman's character.***  And the revelations about certain characters are too easy and too pat.  Some hipster-cred is afforded by the casting of "The Daily Show's" two Steve's: Stephen Colbert as a too-full-of-himself tv scripter, and Steve Carell as a hyper-intense Uncle Arthur (played on the series by Paul Lynde)—a part that feels like a desperation-move.

It is only at the end, when art-imitating-life-imitating art comes full-circle and begins chomping on it's own lizard-tail, and witch and human settle in for wedded bliss in the backlot house from the series, that the potential nears the target, aided immeasurably by the casting of Richard Kind and Amy Sedaris as the prying neighbors, the Kravitz's, that the movie seems comfortably familiar...and funny.  You know, like, if you're going to remake a TV show, why not actually re-make the TV show—only better?  This movie is such a mis-fire one wonders if bumbling Aunt Clara (played by the perpetually befuddled Marion Lorne) had a hand in conjuring.

Rather than being released, this one should have been torched in the village square.

"Sam, is there some sorta hex you can put on that movie?"

*Actually, it did.  ABC was wary of how elements of the "occult" would go down in the Bible Belt.  Fortunately, they had on their side the very religiously conservative Agnes Moorehead, who had no problems playing a satanic mother-in-law of a the hilt of her broom-handle.

** Kidman practiced the Samantha nose-twitch until she was expert at it.  The secret?  Montgomery never twitched her nose—she twitched her upper lip.

*** Why?  The script was extensively re-written to court the actor considered to be a natural Darrin, Jim Carrey.  But despite beefing up the character's worth, and providing a transformative character arc from man-child to human adult—the only substantial character arc in the movie—Carrey passed.  Smart move on his part.  Bad move on the producer's part, then, to keep the Carrey part as written and shoe-horn Farrell into it.  They should have just rewritten the script and returned the focus to witchcraft rather than the making of a television show.  Total mis-calculation.

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