Nora Ephron must be one of the few paying attention. I have this gut suspicion that she is one of the only people in Hollywood who thinks that old television shows getting the big screen treatment has outstayed its welcome. Her solution? It’s not to stop (she’d be banished for life!), but it’s to get creative. I’m as confuzzled as everyone else.
Her incarnation of Bewitched, the beloved sitcom that got off the ground in 1964 and had an impressive 254 episode run, is really nothing more than an extended SNL skit. The improvisation is even as obvious. However, Ephron, her sister Delia, and fellow screenwriter Adam McKay have put a twist on the story and have packed in just enough gut-busting laughs to cruise to the finish line and emerge as one of the better sitcom-remake specimens.
The twist that the Ephrons and McKay employ calls for not a straight remake, but a remake inside of a separate story. You follow?
Isabel Bigelow (Kidman) is a witch. Her predicament, however, is that she’s tired of being a witch. She’s tired of making objects appear out of nowhere. She’s tired of turning playing cards into credit cards. And most of all, she’s tired of not being needed by a man. She wants to feel alive, although her father, Nigel (Caine), thinks she’s a little off her rocker. But she gets herself a house in a ritzy neighborhood and prepares for the simple life.
Jack Wyatt (Ferrell) is a struggling actor. He’s just come off an embarrassingly awful project and is no longer in demand. A group of television brains approach him and offer him the role of Darren in a present day remake of Bewitched. Jack’s schmoozy agent, Ritchie (Schwartzmen), thinks he should take the part, but only if he plays opposite an unknown in the Samantha role. He needs to be in the spotlight, after all.
It doesn’t take long for Wyatt to recruit Isabel, and her unique way of twitching her nose instantly earns her the part. What else would one expect out of a real witch?
Ephron, whose overall directing career is best described by the title of one of her films (Mixed Nuts), does the right thing. She says “action” and lets her cast do the rest. There are numerous visual tricks that are pulled off beautifully and Ephron keeps the visual palette consistently bright and cheery. She knows her way around a romantic comedy and this may be one of her subtle best.
The cast is fantastic. Nicole Kidman brings a playful innocence to the character of Isabel, and her interplay with Caine never ends in anything but a laugh. Kidman recovers admirably from last year’s disastrous Stepford Wives remake and turns in an audience-winning performance that is full of winks. Will Ferrell, more or less, does his thing. Since I am not one of these people who thinks that Will Ferrell standing still is funny (only Sam Kinison has ever pulled that off), I was eager to see if he’d be up to the challenge. Ferrell has an undeniable gift for taking what would be overacting to any other actor in Hollywood and making it just another day at the office for him. People expect it from him, and he delivers in this film. Ranging from serious to flat-out delirious, Ferrell never fails to keep things fresh with his off-beat brand of humor and sheer lunacy. I have this feeling that I am gradually becoming a convert from film to film.
While all this is fun and suitably light, die-hard fans of the original series may be quite disappointed by the complete lack of story. Every setup is just a coat hanger for some Kidman/Ferrell shenanigans. The film borrows the nose twitch, the hex, and the character names from the original series, but it ends there. Those expecting a faithful or coherent remake will be disappointed.
Despite this glaring flaw, Bewitched is still what the doctor ordered for early summer feather-weight entertainment. No thought process is required, and the laughs hit the target enough to get the job done. Kidman is charming, Ferrell continues to be a fearless comedian, and Nora Ephron flaunts what she’s best at. After all, if at first you don’t succeed, just rewind. See the film and you’ll get it.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 90 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some language, including sex and drug references, and partial nudity.
Theatrical Release: June 24, 2005
Directed by: Nora Ephron
Written by: Delia Ephron & Nora Ephron & Adam McKay.
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine, Michael Caine, Jason Schwartzman, Kristin Chenoweth