American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
If television affects the way we think, dress and behave -- and, heaven help us, I'm afraid it does -- then someday we may all be a nation of those perfect plastic robots on TV. The ones who look human (well, humanoid), but who've fashioned a utopia out of this vale of tears by selecting and using the correct cosmetics, kitchen aids, toiletries and garbage bags. That may come someday. In the meantime, there are "The Stepford Wives."
They seem fishy from the moment Joanna (Katharine Ross) arrives in the cozy suburb of Stepford. They don't seem to do anything much, except keep up their images as perfect housewives and helpmates. They are doggedly devoted to their husbands, they are shapelier than your average female and they are obsessed to the point of frenzy with keeping their houses clean.
Joanna can't stand these paragons, and neither can a couple of her friends, Bobby and Charmaine. They decide to hold a feminist consciousness-raising session, and it turns into a gruesome parody of a TV commercial. After the first three women explore their psyches for areas of vulnerability, the other ladies get involved in a heated discussion about various brands of cleansing powder. It's all so eerie, especially after Charmaine goes away for the weekend and comes back as a zombie like the rest.
Bobby gets the notion that there must be something in Stepford itself -- something in the drinking water, maybe? -- that's turning these women into parodies of the ideal housewife. She and Joanna take a water sample into the city, but that's not it. And then, well, poor Bobby.... But I can't give away too much of the plot, I suppose, even though the trailers and the TV ads probably do.
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