Bewitched

  • Title:  Bewitched
  • Director:  Nora Ephron
  • Date:  2005
  • Studio:  Columbia
  • Genre:  Romantic Comedy
  • Cast:  Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Michael Caine, Shirley MacLaine, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’m about to be killed by a fictional character!” — Jack  Wyatt

“I can’t be normal because I’m a witch; I can’t be a witch because I really want to be normal.”  — Isabel Bigalow

Since I reviewed this movie when I saw it in 2005 at the theater and when I finally picked up and watched the DVD in March 2010, I figured I would save a little work. Below is my original review. New comments at bottom.

Bewitched was a surprisingly fun, cute movie. Unlike many movie remakes of television shows which are often very poorly done, Bewitched travels quite happily down a slightly different path. In the film, Will Farrell plays Jack, a down on his luck actor, unable to get starring film roles after his last film tanked at the box office. Nicole Kidman plays Isabel, a witch, who like Samantha in the original television program wants to give up witchcraft and lead a normal life. And like any romantic comedy, Jack meets Isabel, the audience knows they are meant for each other, and after a few trials and tribulations, Jack and Isabel do get together, cut to end credits.

However, what makes Bewitched, incredibly fun to watch is the “B” plot, the making of a new –remake — television show called, Bewitched. Farrell’s character, Jack, meets Isabel (Kidman) in a bookshop. He offers her the part of Samantha on his new show. However, once casting her, he realises she is up-staging him right and left, and decides to make Bewitched his show. He overacts, steals scenes, has the shows writers cut Isabel’s lines, insists on delivering all the punch lines, and in short makes every mistake both a bad actor and a remake (television or film) could possibly make. When the focus group blue cards come back, Isabel is tremendously popular (99 points) but Jack isn’t (32 points; the dog did better). Farrell throws a tantrum.

Isabel, meanwhile, is having problems of  her own. She figures out how poorly Jack’s been treating her and decides to quit, but before she can do that, her Aunt Clara experimentally places a hex on Jack turning him into the perfect, and horribly fake, movie-like romantic man hopelessly in love with Isabel. Isabel, to her credit, sees this as a fake, and un-does the hex, starting over again. She then blows up at Jack, calling him out on the carpet for being selfish and self-centered (she’s right).

Jack, seeing the error of his ways, more or less tells Isabel she’s right, and the two begin working on their new television show as partners instead of as competitors. The resulting montage sequence of the creation of a new hit TV show is well done. But Isabel’s and Jack’s problems aren’t quite over — Isabel still has to tell Farrell she’s a witch, a real witch. The next sequence in the film, consists of Isabel revealing the truth to Jack. A truth that he at first does not believe, and once she proves it to him, causes him to reject her — in true romantic movie fashion. It takes Uncle Arthur, a character that Jack (a fan of the original program), imagines — to get Jack to realise the error of his ways, and that he really loves Isabel, which brings the two together.

The entire film, however, full of television in-jokes, manages to parody television, without, necessarily, parodying the show the film is based on. The film breaks the reality/screen wall over and over again, to full audience acceptance, in truly excellent style. For example, in one sequence where Jack courts Isabel, the two chase each other around various sets and partial set-pieces in the television studio where both work — in a sequence extremely reminiscent of Gene Kelly’s courtship of Debbie Reynolds in Singin’ in the Rain.  (A film referenced earlier in the movie when Isabel, runs into the rain, joyfully, after arguing with her father about whether or not she can give up being a witch). In another sequence, Jack and Isabel chat on what appears to be a romantic balcony, until two stage hands move the background away while they talk. Those sequences, and the parodies of television and film conventions are what make the film Bewitched truly magical.

Update:  Yes, Bewitched is still a very fun romantic comedy with a twist. It’s enjoyable to watch, even when one knows where it is going (which let’s face it – is the case for all romantic comedies). The playing with the “Fourth Wall” still works, even when it’s no longer a surprise. Steve Carell plays “Uncle Arthur”, as a really, really good impersonation of Paul Lynde (even to the point of being a little swish) – but because his character is one that Will Farrell dreams-up, the dead-on impersonation works. Shirley MacLaine is Endora – in the new TV series remake of Bewitched, playing the part in flamboyant style and with the best wardrobe in the film (except for possibly Isabel’s). She also gets her own subplot, in that the actress, Iris, falls for Isabel’s father, Nigel, played by Michael Caine. In fact, that older romance – between Caine and MacLaine – who have fantastic on-screen chemistry, adds to the feel and enjoyment factor of the film. Will Farrell is a bit over-the-top at times, but in a sense, he’s meant to be playing an over-the-top actor/drama queen (drama king?) and it works.

Oh, and by the way, – the soundtrack / music is terrific in this movie.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Billy Elliot

The Apartment

  • Title:  The Apartment
  • Director:  Billy Wilder
  • Date:  1960
  • Genre:  Drama, Romantic Comedy, Classic
  • Studio:  United Artists / MGM
  • Cast:  Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, David White
  • Format:  Black/White, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1

The Apartment is a genre-stretching, masterwork directed by Billy Wilder.  Though billed as a comedy, and having a strong romantic comedy sub-plot, the main body of the film is very dramatic and almost depressing.  In a sense, rather than a Romantic Comedy — this film is Romantic Film Noir.

The film also puts paid to the idea that only women can be taken advantage of by their bosses in corporate society.  CC Baxter, “Bud”, to his friends, is a good guy — but in order to rise in the corporate world, he’s found a little secret — he lends out the use of his apartment to the advantaged jerks who happen to be over him in the corporate hierarchy, so they can fool around without their wives getting suspicious.  Whenever he tries to assert himself – the carrot of a promotion is held out, and Bud hands over his apartment key.  ‘Til one day he gets the call upstairs for what he thinks is a promotion – he gets the promotion, but only if he also allows the head boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), in on the use of his apartment.

Meanwhile, Bud has started to fall for the elevator girl, Ms. Fran Kubelik (MacLaine).  However, she confesses to him that she’s in love with the married man she’s been having an affair with.  On Christmas Eve, she and the Married Man, who turns out to be Bud’s boss (Sheldrake), have a fight – and she takes an overdose of sleeping pills in Bud’s apartment.  Bud comes home, finds her, gets his neighbor the doctor over, and rescues her.  What looks like the start of a promising relationship ends when her brother-in-law shows up and takes her home to her sister, after decking Bud.  Later, Bud decides to tell Sheldrake he wants to marry Ms. Kubelik, but before he can, Sheldrake announces his wife has left him after finding out about his affairs, so he’s going to take Fran.  He offers Bud an position as his assistant, deputy director.

Later, Fran and Bud run into each other in the lobby and Bud remarks, “Well, we both got what we wanted.  I have a corner office, and he left his wife for you.” (or words to that effect).  At New Year’s, Fran figures it all out, goes to find Bud who’s quit his job and may be thinking about quitting his life.  And they end-up together.

But unlike many fluffy romantic comedies, there’s more tragedy and drama in this movie than comedy or even romance.  And Wilder’s beautiful direction adds to the sense of urban isolation.  That is, how a person can be surrounded by people but be completely alone — as Bud, Fran, and even Sheldrake all are.  Scenes like Bud being alone in the office – with the white lights on the ceiling, and the endless identical desks, all stretching out into the unseen distance emphasize how alone Bud is.  Or the play of light on Fran’s face in the bar on New Year’s as she figures out just what a louse Skeldrake is.  Even the various infidelities referred to seem to emphasize the isolation of the characters.  And what can I say?  The film is written, produced, and directed by Billy Wilder – one of my favorite directors, ever.

The-Apartment_office_small

The cast is excellent.  Jack Lemmon really pulls off the character of a complete nebbish perfectly, and we cheer for him when he stands up to Skeldrake.  Fred MacMurray  is a complete slimeball (surprisingly for the guy later known for My Three Sons and tons of Disney flicks), though he’s not as traditionally bad (yet strangely sympathetic) as in Double Indemnity.  Shirley MacLaine, extremely young and a burnette, does a brilliant job playing an incredibly deep character – the movie is as much about her as it is about Bud.  Overall, a film that very much needs to be seen.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  4 Stars
Next Film:  Austin Powers:  International Man of  Mystery