Rates: * *
Why Did I Watch It? Following the Blank Check podcast series on Nora Ephron
A washed up actor turns to a reboot of the classic sitcom ‘Bewitched’ to revive his career. Wanting to corral all the screentime for himself, he insists on an unknown as the female lead. Little does he know: this fresh face actually IS a real witch, newly arrived in the world of humans. Where has she come from? Never explained.
Producer Penny Marshall, presumably a fan, had been trying to get a ‘Bewitched’ movie off the ground for a decade. Like many projects stuck in development hell, multiple screenwriters, directors and actors (most notably Jim Carrey) had already come and gone by the time Nora Ephron signed on. And you can feel the ghosts of these false starts lurking in the background; this is at least four different movies – a rom com, an inside Hollywood thing, a fish out of water thing, and a zany door slamming farce – fighting each other to step into the light.
The one thing the film doesn’t do, is recreate the actual TV show it is based on. Maybe the idea was just too naff for a modern audience; a guy and girl meet cute, get married, and only later he finds out she is a witch, which they then try and conceal from everyone else. But if this idea is not right for the present day – too simplistic, too mired in the sexual politics of its time – then: why make the film at all?
What the movie does instead is a whole bunch of crazy nonsense. You have a fictional network rebooting the show, starring the obnoxious Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell), and Hollywood neophyte Isabel Bigalow (Nicole Kidman). This gives you a bunch of cynical jokes about showbiz and the chaotic nature of TV, all of which you’ve seen before.
Then you have Isabel dealing with being a witch in the 21st century, which plays a bit like ‘Encino Man’; she does not know how even the most basic things work, she constantly has her foot in her mouth, she misunderstands EVERYTHING. She also tangles with her own father, blandly played by Michael Caine, who is also a witch but who nevertheless knows EVERYTHING about the modern world, and has no trouble with any of it (this discrepancy: never epxlained). He also uses his witch powers to get laid.
Another element of this story thread: Isabel has decided to renounce her powers and live like a human being. Why she wants to do this: never explained. And this is just the set up. The craziest parts are still to come.
Having established that Isabel, and her father, are the only witches in our world… the film then reveals that actually, there are a bunch of others, including several cast members of the new ‘Bewitched’. Then the film suggests that the original ‘Bewitched’ may actually have been a kind of docu-drama, quite possibly based on Isabel’s own family! And I have not even mentioned the part where the film reverses itself, and excises 15 minutes of its own run time.
The how’s and why’s of this are unclear, and are unsurprisingly: never explained. But what happens is: two of the characters from the original show appear, played by new actors, and talk about events from the old ‘Bewitched’ like they actually happened. I listened to a two hour podcast discussion of this film, they devoted considerable time to this part of it, they were still unable to work out if this stuff is meant to be real or imaginary. Trying to parse it is like trying to follow one of those Escher ‘Impossible Shapes’ with your eyes.
And so: an almost total misfire, and very confusing.
But yet: not totally unwatchable.
Following Ephron’s career trajectory via the Blank Check podcast series has confirmed: even her worst film’s have some funny lines and moments. And this one has an enviable cast; as well as Ferrell and Kidman (sadly showing no chemistry), you also get Shirley MacLaine, Jason Schwartzman, Stephen Colbert (sadly not given much to do), and Steve Carell. And Amy Sedaris (sadly in a one scene part). They are fun to watch, even if a lot of the time you’re left going, ‘whaaaaaaaaaaat?’
To add one final enigma, it was weirdly successful at the box office, grossing $132 million. AND is one of only a handful of films to rate an ‘F’ via cinemascore; a strange movie, that a lot of people saw, and no one liked.