April 6th, 2004
In the fall of 1995, producer Lorne Michaels hired a brand-new cast for “Saturday Live,” which featured one of my all-time favorite castmembers, Will Ferrell. One of the hottest comedians in the movie industry after the enormous triumph of “Elf,” he is now attached to a big project for the summer of 2005, a remake of the television show “Bewitched.”
Nora Ephron (1993’s “Sleepless in Seattle,” 1998’s “You’ve Got Mail”) is attached to direct and it will feature turns by Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine. Wait, I’m forgetting someone... the most gifted actress in the world, Nicole Kidman.
The film focuses on witch Isabel Bigelow (Nicole Kidman), who decides to move to the Valley. Her father Nigel (Michael Caine), also a witch, doesn’t understand his daughter’s choice: Why does she want to abandon her way of life and become a normal person? At the same time, film actor Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) has been dumped and kicked out by his wife, Sheila, while his successful film career has taken a serious drop thanks to a film called “Last Year in Katmandu.” The current definition of a Hollywood has-been, he’s looking to revitalize his image and decides to play Darrin in the TV remake of “Bewitched.” He has only two conditions: he gets top billing and they have to cast an unknown to play his TV wife, Samantha. The search for a new face gets them nowhere until Jack spots Isabel in a bookstore. Begging her to take the part, she accepts the offer as she becomes smitten with him. What follows is a series of problems and witchcraft gone wild that threaten the show and their burgeoning off-screen romance.
The sibling duo of Nora and Delia Ephron have done an outstanding job penning this project. While it is a remake at its core, the story is extremely unique and reminds me a bit of “Adaptation.” Yet the concept of “Bewitched” is remade only inside the storyline of the movie. Instead of the current conventional way to remake the classic TV shows (a la “Starsky and Hutch,” S.W.A.T.,” etc…), I found this storyline to be a refreshing take.
With the inclusion of Ferrell’s “SNL” buddy McKay to rewrite the script, I’m guessing Ferrell’s participation in this project is very serious right now, although he is attached to a number of other projects. McKay is the co-writer and director of Ferrell’s upcoming “Anchorman” and you can see where he has inserted his unconventional comedy into the story; there are some dialogue lines you can see his fingerprints on because the Ephron sisters aren’t that off the wall. Even with these two different comedic styles intermingling here, I think they have found the perfect harmony between the spirit of the original “Bewitched” television show and a Will Ferrell comedy— Nowhere does it feel nostalgic or does it dwell into adolescent humor. It’s clever, smart and amusing from opening to conclusion, it moves a bit fast but it’s not frenetically so.
There is one minor flaw in the story here, for all the positive attributes mentioned above. Isabel has two female friends in the script. Her neighbor Maria and her co-worker Nina are so much alike that you can’t even differentiate one from the other. At one point, I thought they were the same person. The best solution would be to drop one of them. Who needs two under-used female characters when you can a very distinct single one?
For those who have read my past reviews, they might have picked up that I’m a huge fan of Nicole Kidman. Isabel isn’t like most archetypical characters Nicole plays. She’s nice, sweet and a bit naïve at first. It’s a departure from the strong, independent and intelligent women she normally takes on (not that she isn’t nice or sweet in the bulk of her other roles). She astutely picked something different and it sounds like fun.
Ferrell plays a real loser in this film, one that will be fun to watch for sure. He goes through every emotion in this film, suffering heartbreak, frustration and insult. Then, he goes totally nuts with his movie-star power, a real diva. The whole spectrum of Ferrell is explored in this picture. He’s even a romantic lead at times. Adam McKay has done a phenomenal job tailoring the Jack Wyatt part into a wild and entertaining Will Ferrell role. I’m curious to see how well Ferrell matches up against Kidman. He’s facing up against the most talented actress in the world right now. Can he hold his own?
Summer 2005 will belong to Michael Caine. His role as Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s loyal servant, in “Batman Begins” is incredibly riveting. In that screenplay, he steals the show. He must have terrific representation because he couldn’t pick a better follow-up then this, another riveting turn for the aging thespian. Shirley MacLaine has a supporting role in this film as well. But while Variety mentioned she was playing Endora, it’s a bit more complicated. MacLaine is Iris Smythson, a respected older Hollywood actress hired to portray Endora on the TV show. Iris is not a witch at all and we don’t see Isabel’s mother in the film although she’s mentioned a few times. Caine’s Nigel begins to hang around his daughter, meets Iris and becomes occupied with her. It’s a fun role for Shirley and she has her share of good lines. Aunt Clara, Dr. Bombay and Uncle Arthur all show up in the screenplay, although I won’t spoil if they’re real or TV characters. But I will say they’re very much like they were in the original show.
There is one more key actor to be cast, Jack Wyatt’s agent Richie. A great choice would be Ferrell’s old “SNL” buddy Chris Parnell. I know he has a cameo in “Anchorman,” but this could be a very good breakthrough and funny supporting role for Parnell. That’s just my two cents.
This summer, “Anchorman” and “The Stepford Wives” will be successes in their own right at the box office; Ferrell and Kidman look to easily repeat the following summer “Bewitched."
My rating: A-
This version of the script is dated December 3rd, 2003 and credited to Nora and Delia Ephron. This version of the script (109 pages) also features a rewriting by Adam McKay (here listed as Adam McKay-Ephron, an in-joke). As of this writing, filming is scheduled to begin this summer.