The only acceptable way to make a modern-day adaptation of this beloved show, which relied so much on Elizabeth Montgomery’s charm and its clever premise, is to do what this movie does. Exposing the egomaniacal crassness of remaking a well-loved Tv series (in the safe confines of a feature-film narrative) is good. Casting, by mistake, a real witch in the new Samantha role, unbeknownst to all is very clever. Giving everyone a big, gooey identity crisis over the whole thing is good. Casting Wicked’s Kristen Chenoweth as a mortal neighbor (not Mrs. Kravitz) is the cherry on the cake.
What went wrong? Nothing really, technically, nothing. Yet the film fails to magick its way into Sleepless in Seattle territory, though it is superior to any other Ephron film not considered a classic. Will Ferrell seemed poised, mid-film, for this movie to be his Liar Liar, his perfect vehicle which takes all the Ferrellisms and justifies them, which also makes him vulnerable and sympathetic and still get to play big-jerk for laughs. Somewhere he is hamstrung, and I couldn’t find where. Nicole Kidman plays Meg Ryan very convincingly, and that is one odd effect. It’s hard to have those sophisticated cat’s eyes on screen batting naively and being low-status and shy. It’s just weird. She seemed more natural as a Stepford Wife. Maybe that’s the slippery chemical that keeps Bewitched from gelling.
The film doesn’t really get going until Kidman finally lets loose (as you know she must; I have no spoilers here that the rotten trailer doesn’t ruin). Overall the performances are delightful, but there are no real surprises. Shirley MacLaine as Iris Smythson as Endora is a master’s thesis of metafictional glory. Steve Carrell channeling Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur is creepy but fun. Jonathan Schwartzman breaks out his inner Tom Cruise as Ferrell’s agent. How can a man like Michael Caine, who plays roles exactly like this as a warm-up exercise still make Nigel Bigelow only be right for Caine? The soundtrack is also a real keeper.
Possibly, like many insecure movies, the trailer gave away too many of the best bits – but surely there weren’t so few? I recall feeling pleasantly diverted the whole time, but (with the exception of Chenoweth and MacLaine and Carrell) not surprised. Sadly, Bewitched needed to surprise us with its twists and it couldn’t, for fear we would skip the film as yet another TV-show-gone-big-screen, so it gave up its treasure to get us in our sears. The TV show and the movie, however, are still both about a witch trying to suppress her power in a mortal world, and whether love is possible with a mortal. While this is the best possible way to big-screenify the original concept, the original was just too perfect in its execution to be improved upon, even with delicious self-referential wit.
It’s cute, it’s sweet, it’s funny, but it won’t change your life. I am glad I saw it, just for a taste of the old magic again.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/23/05
Time in minutes 90
Director Nora Ephron
Studio Columbia Pictures