This update of the 1960’s television series that is still running on TV Land is as cute as the magical twitch of Samantha Stephens’ nose. Director and co-writer (with her sister Delia) Nora Ephron have given us more than the usual retro-infused with a wink of irony-style updates of the television shows loved by the kids of the 1970’s who are now working in Hollywood like Starsky and Hutch and Charlie’s Angels. The Ephrons have given it a bit of a meta-tilt. The television series about a witch who marries a mortal has been turned into a movie about an update of the beloved series, starring a has-been movie star (Will Ferrell) and a newcomer who has never acted before but who happens to be, in real life…a witch.
Isabel (Nicole Kidman) doesn’t know very much about what it means to be “normal,” but she knows she wants to try it. She wants to debate the color of the walls and make popcorn in the microwave. “I want to have days when my hair is affected by the weather!”
Over the objections of her father (Michael Caine), she moves into a suburban house, buys some groceries, and settles in, dreaming of finding someone who will need her.
So, of course she runs into the neediest guy alive, Jack Wyatt (Ferrell), a movie star whose combination of professional and personal disasters has left him professionally and personally vulnerable to the point of complete desperation. He agrees to be in an updated television series based on the classic “Bewitched,” as long as this time it is his role — Darren the mortal husband — who has the lead. For that reason, the part of Samantha the witch must go to an unknown.
At first, Isabel is delighted to go along with this plan. Her unfamiliarity with the human world leads her to accept whatever people say without looking for attempts to mislead her — intentional or not. Things get complicated, and like the character Isabel plays, she finds herself unable to resist using her powers.
There are some sharp and clever takes on the differences between the sexes (especially the interest of older men in younger women) and on the similarities between being a witch and being a star — in both cases, “you snap your fingers and pretty much anything you want happens.” There are even sharper takes on the similarities between being a witch and just being a woman. Jack finds out that the most powerful “hex” isn’t when Isabel twitches her nose but when she puts her foot down.
Kidman makes Isabel’s innocence fresh and beguiling as nose-tickling champagne bubbles. Ferrell’s reliable cluelessness works well for his spoiled baby of a movie star: “Make 20 cappucinos and bring me the best one!” he bellows. Fans of the series will appreciate the tweaks and salutes of the original (which still looks pretty good in clips from the first episode, even in black and white). Just like the original Samantha, Isabel and Jack learn that real magic is no match for falling in love.
Parents should know that this movie has some mild language and sexual references and a non-explicit sexual situation. There is some social drinking and some comic, pratfall-style violence.
Families who see this movie should talk about why someone with the kind of powers Isabel had would want to be “normal.” Why was it important to her to be needed? When you have a problem, how do you decide whether to “put up with it, quit, or just get mad?”
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the original Bewitched television series. As shown in this movie, the first season was filmed in black and white, so avoid the colorized DVD and stick with the authentic version.
Fans of the series will also enjoy this book about the show, with a foreward by series director (and former husband of Elizabeth Montgomery) William Asher. Where the Girls Are is a fascinating book about the movies and television of the Bewitched era, with a thoughtful assessment of the difference between the powers of Samantha Stevens and Jeannie, both, according to the author, responses to some of the cultural controversy over the changes in expectations and opportunities for women.
Families will also enjoy movies with similar themes, including the classics I Married a Witch and Bell, Book, and Candle. And they will enjoy the movies written by the screenwriter parents of Nora and Delia Ephron, especially Desk Set.