The question before us today at the Being and Nothingness School of TV Properties Cannibalized by Hollywood is why Bewitched is so not. The answer is because it has been made by industry Muggles who have doused irony and satire over something that owes its original, delicate charms to the exact opposite of irony — to utter sincerity in the face of preposterousness.
The 1960s-?70s sitcom, a beloved series from the Formica age when wifies still fretted about getting ring-around-the-collar stains out of their hubbies? shirts, starred Elizabeth Montgomery as a real witch named Samantha who married a mortal, and who used her sorcery for suburban good to keep her man in line. All she had to do was wriggle her nose and magic (as well as laugh-track comedy) would follow. The contempo production, directed by Nora Ephron from a script she co-wrote with her sister, Delia Ephron, stars Nicole Kidman as Isabel Bigelow, a real witch who gets cast in a remake of the TV show opposite Will Ferrell?s Jack Wyatt, a dim actor trying to salvage a tanking movie career. Urged on by his smarmy agent (Jason Schwartzman), Jack takes the small-screen deal as a chance to improve his Q-rating by becoming a lovable, funny TV star, and in his zeal to hog the spotlight, he insists on casting an unknown in the role of Samantha.
Isabel, who is trying to swear off witchery and has moved to Los Angeles hoping to lead a ?normal,? spell-free life (pause for snicker cue: in L.A.?), lands the job when Jack spots her in a bookstore, indulging in some spontaneous nose-wriggling while reading a self-help book. She accepts the offer (much to the chagrin of her warlock father, played — come to think of it, what avuncular role isn?t these days? — by Michael Caine) because she is attracted to what she perceives as Jack?s charming flesh-and-blood masculine neediness. And then he turns out to be uncharmingly self-centered. (Ferrell seems unsure himself about where to put his energies, settling for some unstable region between his two specialities of vain dolt and giant boy.) Witches in Isabel?s part of the world clearly do not watch the tube or she would have already known about loutish male behavior from the TV prophet Dr. Phil.
The premise is indeed clever. It also turns out to be too clever by half, warping the movie so that it?s neither a sweet repetition of the original notion (man and witch play house) nor an insider-oriented parody of showbiz neuroticism. Kidman plays Isabel with a breathy voice, an amalgam of Marilyn Monroe and Jennifer Tilly, and she?s the best thing in the picture by far: The same ethereal/androidal tendencies that can make her seem, at times, as bubble-wrapped as fellow sorceress Glinda-the-good-witch give her a shimmer of sincerity that is missing from everyone else involved.
Shirley MacLaine, in the part of the actress playing Samantha?s mother, turns the woman into an applause hog. Steve Carrell, as Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur, becomes his own Steve Carrell special. The Ephron sisters, sophisticates entrusted with a simple TV situation comedy, lose the magic of the com as they mess with the sit.