Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Romance
Play time: 1h 42min
Director: Nora Ephron
Screenwriters: Nora Ephron, Delia Ephron
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell, Shirley MacLaine
Bewitched has virtually nothing to do with the television series of the same name, and on one hand that’s refreshing: if nothing else (and indeed, it’s not much else), the movie is a conceptually creative attempt to liven up the tv remake landscape. And the concept could surely have worked had the screenplay maintained some degree of coherence — tonally, thematically, and/or in its story. As it stands, Bewitched is an ugly, ungainly mess, good only for those happy leaving the theater cooling “that was so adorable,” and even some of that ilk may be dissatisfied.
After the screening, I argued with someone over whether anyone involved in the production could honestly say that they’ve put together a good movie. I have to say yes — this is what these people do, after all, and given the amount of money and prestige that goes with it, there’s no reason for them not to give it their all. I am not sure that reflects better on them than the alternative, since the film seems so shoddy that the filmmakers’ image might be improved if they were to fess up to throwing it together over a couple of weekends.
The party primarily responsible is Nora Ephron, who directed the film, and wrote the screenplay with her sister Delia. If she has an auteurial stamp here, it is one of unrelenting chaos. From the very first frame, Ephron lets us know that she is not going to let up with the constant barrage of witchcraft jokes and sight gags, and at least until the third act, she keeps her promise. Like many better films and filmmakers have done, Bewitched and Ephron adopt the philosophy of throwing as much at the audience as possible and hoping that some of it sticks.
Problem is, the movie operates on the most basic level imaginable: surprising, since even the conceit — the struggling actor tapped to play Darren in a tv remake of Bewitched casts a real witch in the part of Samantha — seems to display a couple of layers. But no: things are kept as simple as possible; every joke and gag is exactly the cute, self-consciously whimsical kind of thing you would expect. The “funny” part is that there are points where Ephron clearly thinks she is being subtle — little visual gags of the sort Alfonso Cuaron might have put in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — but the jokes blatantly call attention to themselves, all the while they remain not funny. This movie is not funny, except in rare instances when Will Ferrell improvs something terrific (“I think those people over there have finished their plate of hummus.”).
Bewitched‘s wretched simplicity extends to the characters. Isabel (Nicole Kidman), the real-life witch tapped by Jack Wyatt (Ferrell) to act, is an utter imbecile who simply does not understand the concept of a television show about a witch as opposed to her actual state of beings. Actually, she does seem to understand this when the screenplay veers toward the serious; at other times, it gleefully plays her inexplicable ignorance for would-be laughs.
The wrap-up loses all semblance of sense, introducing an extraneous and nonsensical character to bring everything to a haphazard and stupid, if eagerly awaited conclusion. There were moments throughout the first two acts when Bewitched entertained us almost despite itself — the scenes where they were actually filming the new sitcom were pretty amusing, and the actors are good for a couple of good moments each — but watch the last twenty minutes and you’ll wonder if anyone, anyone, cared a whit about the fate of this film.