Laughs, Romance and Heart Are the Real Magic in "Bewitched"
- Jeffrey Huston Contributing Writer
- 2005 24 Jun
Release Date: June 24, 2005
Rating: PG-13 (for some language, including sex and drug references, and partial nudity)
Run Time: 100 min
Director: Nora Ephron
Actors: Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, Jason Schwartzman, Kristin Chenoweth, Heather Burns, Stephen Colbert, David Alan Grier, Steve Carell
Twinkle twinkle. As effortlessly as "Bewitched"’s Samantha Stephens cleaned house with the twitch of her button-nose, writer/director Nora Ephron smoothly re-imagines this classic sitcom with an inspired premise that puts other TV-to-film retreads to shame. Unfortunately, her "Bewitched" is yet another example of Hollywood soiling a near-perfect homage with “now why did they have to put that in there?” moments.
Instead of transposing an old premise into contemporary times, this "Bewitched" remake isn’t a remake but rather is about a remake. A major network has decided to revive “Bewitched” and its mortal-man-marries-magical-woman concept. The first cast-member signed is Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell), a has-been looking for a career revival. Not wanting to be upstaged, he demands an unknown be cast as Samantha opposite his Darren, the only requisite being to duplicate the classic nose twitch. But Jack and the producers get more than they bargained for when they unknowingly sign a real witch—Nicole Kidman’s Isabel Bigelow.
Isabel (like her TV character) is a witch looking to live a normal life. Having lived a sheltered witches-only upbringing, she is just now stepping out into the real world. This gives Isabel a lovably naïve innocence, causing her to take Jack’s professional advances as expressions of love. Kidman endears us to her with an adorable charisma reminiscent of Diane Keaton in her "Annie Hall" heyday, while Ferrell’s insecure star proves a hysterical comic foil.
The show’s producers use Isabel's innocence to their advantage, but once she catches wise to Jack’s two-faced nature (she’s naïve, not dumb) this woman scorned brings her hidden powers to the surface. But her retreat to those powers only proves why she ran from them to begin with; while they give her what she wants, she knows what she’s received hasn’t been earned and therefore lacks value, meaning, and truth. Isabel’s struggle becomes the film’s message – that true love cannot be manipulated, only freely given.
It’s also about accepting ourselves for who we are, and while that theme is good "Bewitched" has more liberal parallels in mind. Specifically, Isabel’s eventual “coming out” plays similar to that of homosexuals. From Jack’s over-reacting hysterics about what he may have “contracted” to Isabel’s declaration that she can’t help it (she was “born this way”), the third act of this "Bewitched" also plays as subtle pro-gay parable. The implication is faint, though, never attempting an obvious comparison, leaving the inference to be drawn by the audience or simply lost altogether.
Still, that typical liberal-think emerges elsewhere as flashes of adult humor pepper an otherwise sweet and innocent film. This mostly inoffensive offering is jarred by occasional sexual slang, and at one point a fully nude Will Ferrell runs across screen, his private area blurred only by pixilation. While played for comedy, all it really does is taint a fun nostalgic experience. It also displays a lack of faith in the material; such content is not needed for this well-executed conceit to play to a broad contemporary audience.
Indeed, the sensibilities that made Ephron’s "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You’ve Got Mail" classics are what make this light-hearted confection work so well. At its root, her "Bewitched" is a romantic comedy. This not only plays to Ephron’s strengths (which include a soundtrack filled with perfectly-placed old standards – an Ephron staple) but it also highlights the film’s two greatest assets, Kidman and Ferrell. She’s lovable, he’s a scene-stealer, and the two of them make for an unlikely but effective coupling.
This also allows the peripherals to add flavor to the mix without distracting from the core. As Isabel’s father, Michael Caine emits a sly seductive charm (and provides some of the film’s best sight-gags), Broadway’s Kristin Chenoweth is a cute, giggling hoot as the sidekick friend, and Steve Carell lays it on thick as he channels Paul Lynde’s Uncle Arthur. Only Shirley MacLaine lacks, looking the part of Samantha’s mom Endora but nothing more.
Yes, witchcraft – a categorically non-Christian practice – plays a major part here, but mostly just as cute parlor tricks or comedic plot devices. Spells are cast and a hex/incantation scene takes place, but Isabel later regrets her actions. Furthermore, in the film’s world, witches simply “are” or “aren’t” and nothing suggests that witchcraft is something to try or aspire to. It’s simply a gimmick and nothing more. This inspired re-imagining, however, is anything but. While it’s not for all ages or sensitivities, "Bewitched" has enough charm, cuteness, hilarity and heart to make for a nice date movie or fun girls night out.
AUDIENCE: Mature teenagers and adults
Drugs/Alcohol Content: Casual drinking of wine.
Language/Profanity: A couple of mild profanities, and a few instances of sexual words/dialogue including slang terms for both gender’s sexual organs.
Sexual Content/Nudity: Very mild dialogue/references. Nearly-full male nudity (privates blurred).
Violence: Witchcraft powers (used for comedic purposes). One instance of using magic to throw a big object at someone to hurt them.