Directed by Nora Ephron
Bewitched isn’t so much a re-make of the classic 1960s TV series as an inside Hollywood comedy with an admittedly high-concept premise: while re-making the series for TV, the producers unknowingly cast a real witch as Samantha. The humor comes in three flavors: (a) inside Hollywood; (b) Will Ferrell as an egotistical bad actor on a career slump – with his usual highly physical comedic style; and (c) Nicole Kidman an a witch who’s trying to quit witchcraft (as in the original) while acting in the TV remake and deciding whether or not she loves Ferrell’s character. With the comedy coming from different sources, it didn’t seem too repetitive – as is often the case with these movies – romantic comedies often recycle essentially the same joke for 90 minutes. Having these multiple sources saved the movie – 90 minutes of the-witch-trying-to-quit would get old while 90 minutes of Will Ferrell’s bad actor shtick would be unbearable.
When I heard about this project – that Nora Ephron (1993’s Sleepless in Seattle and 1998’s You’ve Got Mail) was writing and directing – I was afraid of being overwhelmed by sentimentality. Although she’s very good at what she does, Nora Ephron’s movies always struck me as set in an idealized world of perfect characters and just-too-sweet endings. That’s not the case with Bewitched -- Will Ferrell’s Jack Wyatt/Darren character is no perfect man – which makes him interesting -- but they could have done more to develop him, to reconcile the egotistical, abusive star with the charming, innocent suitor who falls for Isabel Bigelow/Samantha (Kidman). Nora Ephron made a comedy – she kept it light -- it’s funny in several ways, not a sentimental tear-jerker like some of her earlier – and highly successful – movies.
The strongest element in Bewitched is the “inside Hollywood” humor, as developed by several spirited supporting performances. In the universe of movies that satirize Hollywood, the gold standard in 2002’s Adaptation. If you enjoy that aspect of Bewitched you must see Adaptation – it’s out on DVD. The Hollywood agent character (played here by Jason Schwartzman) reminded me of the hilarious agent (Ron Livingston) from Adaptation. Both agent characters are cut-throat, obnoxious, manipulative and unprincipled – and laugh-out-loud funny. Shirley MacLaine does a great turn as a specially-talented aging actress playing the part of Samantha’s mother in the TV series. Kristin Chenoweth and Heather Burns play Iris’s female friends who help her cope with the unfamiliar snake pit where she works -- the series’ production company.
Bewitched doesn’t dazzle the viewer with impressive production design, costuming or cinematography – the strength of the film is in the humor – well done by the strong cast. For that reason, there’s nothing visually compelling that will be lost in transition to DVD – it’s not necessarily a big-screen movie. Even the magic – which could have been done with elaborate special effects, calculated to wow the viewer – were handled in a matter-of-fact fashion, much like the original TV series. And that’s not a condemnation – putting in a lot of wiz-bang effects would run contrary to the comedic tone of the movie.
I did have a problem – and this is a very common of mine with romantic comedies –understanding just what one romantic lead sees in the other. In this case, what on earth does the idealized Iris – she’s incredibly beautiful, kind and endowed with magical powers – see in Jack Wyatt – except that he can be a nice guy when his egotistical jerk persona is in remission. I guess we’re just expected to suspend disbelief on that point.
In recommending this film, I have to say that I hold romantic comedies to a lower standard than some other genres, since so many of them are loaded with repetitive, slapstick humor. Bewitched is a funny movie, mainly on the strength of the well developed “inside Hollywood” angle.
Photographs are copyright Columbia Pictures.
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