Thursday, 31 August 2006

Bewitched (DVD) (2005)

Guess which character is the ditzy one here

Bewitched was a popular TV series in the 1960s with a cult following and syndicated reruns, starring Elizabeth Montgomery as the nose-twitching suburban housewife witch. You’d expect a movie remake – if one exists – to hew close to the spirit of the original, and to do it some respect and justice. Many a recent Hollywood remake has been undone by the wide departures from their original series (The Brady Bunch Movie, Starsky and Hutch, The Honeymooners), and one certainly hopes with a much-loved series like Bewitched that nothing would go wrong.

But things do go wrong right from the beginning, starting with Nicole Kidman’s nose. Let me clarify: Nicole Kidman’s nose twitches are a spot on replica of Montgomery’s, but that is about the only right thing that this movie does. In fact, as director Nora Ephron makes a big deal of so frequently in the Making Of extra and her commentary track, Kidman was cast for her uncanny resemblance to Montgomery, and their noses look exactly the same. Okay people, that’s the most compelling reason for a remake of Bewitched, since Nora Ephron follows up with a claim that she finds it impossible to write a straight movie remake of the series. The director doesn’t believe that just updating the series for a modern-day context would work, and if a Bewitched movie has to be made, the entire premise has to be drastically changed.

The gimmick – and it certainly feels very gimmicky – behind the Ephron remake of Bewitched is this: somewhere in Hollywood is Jack Wyatt, a washed-out actor (Will Ferrell) in the final legs of his B-grade movie career, one step away from appearing as a celebrity guest on game shows and reality shows for the rest of his life. He searches around for an idea, any idea, until he comes up with a brilliant idea: cast himself as Darrin in a television resurrection of Bewitched, and a complete unknown as his co-star (Nicole Kidman), so that he’d get the best lines and the attention he so craves for. Brilliant plan, except he unknowingly casts a real witch to play Samantha!

If you think pulling the rug out of the audience this way isn’t nearly quite fatal, that because I neglected to say that Isabel Bigalow (Kidman) may look and twitch her nose like Elizabeth Montgomery, but is poles apart from Samantha. In the original series, Samantha was a witch who just happened to be a housewife, and was far, far smarter and wiser than Darrin. She was the smart one and Darrin was the clueless one. In the pre-feminist age, this was considered subversive and progressive. In this movie, Nicole Kidman plays a very stupid, ignorant, spaced-out California Valley college girl equivalent of a witch, whose latest obsession is to survive real life in a real American town, get a real job, and land the love of a mortal man – all without resorting to witchcraft. Of course, that means living in LA, California and working as an actress. In the modern age, this is an embarrassment and an insult to the spirit of the original series.

With Isabel opening the movie, the wrong notes just pile on each other. The Bewitched resurrection set treats fans of the old series to very few classic moments from the original and somehow feel hollow and pointless. We expect Isobel to create some witchery on the set (like Dafoe’s Orlock in Shadow of the Vampire), but not enough is made out of this possibility. The segments of the "real world life" of Isabel, with visits from her arch warlock father (Michael Caine) and friendly neighbour (Kristin Chenoweth) are amusing, but feel like comic sketches that make little difference to the movie as a whole. Even the overarching romantic plot between Isabel and Jack make little sense; there is little chemistry between the stars and very little preparation, development, and reason in the script to bring the two together convincingly.

With Kidman reduced to a one-joke actress (nose twitching!) and the excellent improvisatory comedian Will Ferrell hamstrung by a lacklustre and unfunny script, the only bright spot in this movie is its supporting cast. The movie perks up each moment that Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine, Kristin Chenoweth and Stephen Colbert appear, and flags immediately when they leave the screen. And even then, the supporting cast are sorely underutilised.

If Ephron believed that if just updating the series for a modern-day context won’t work, she should have just left the idea alone. If you are interested in a good modern-day update and off-centre version of Bewitched, you might want to rent the Japanese television series Okusama wa Majo (奥さまは魔女). If you are interested in a genuinely funny and biting satire on the production of a television comedy, you might want to rent the HBO series The Comeback, starring Lisa Kudrow.

First published at incinemas on 31 August 2006

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the movie was cute not the best but still good and still worth watching.