I don’t want to say much about Bewitched other than to warn people to stay away from it. Nicole Kidman must certainly hope the movie doesn’t hex her career. Both Ms. Kidman and Mr. Ferrell are given poorly-written characters with impossible to reconcile contradictions. (Director Nora Ephron’s sister Delia is credited with the script. Nepotism truly cuts both ways.) But only Mr. Ferrell manages to wring any sort of fun out of his part. Nicole Kidman spends the whole movie acting as if she gets the joke, but the joke seems to be whatever is expedient to create situations that even the worst WB sit-com never considered.
Explain to me, if you can, what exactly the purpose is of Aunt Clara or Uncle Arthur’s appearances. I kept hoping that they would be revealed to be the puppet-masters behind the un-setup set-ups and irrational character motivations. Alas, they seem to be afterthoughts, shoehorned in in reverence to the original series, any episode of which could surely mop the floor with this Charlie Kauffman-lite adaptation.
Double double, toil and trouble. Can I rebuild this story’s rubble?
Now I don’t need a movie about witches to be realistic. All I need is a world with its own internal logic. You start off with what everyone is familiar with — a real world. Now add the idea that there are witches among us. Okay. Now, what are their abilities? They must have limits or they would be gods, not witches. (I maintain that the non-mortals in this movie were full-on thunder-chuckin’, Red Sea-partin’, Trojan War-interferin’ gods.) If mere mortals don’t know they exist, they must be good at maintaining their cover, so we can speculate that certain rules exist, perhaps of decorum only, that keep them from showing off their powers or even living in the mortal realm. Nicole Kidman’s character would’ve had a stronger arc if she had actually given up her powers and was truly forced to fend for herself.
The Ephron sisters, in a benefit-of-the-doubt scenario, were aching towards saying something about true love. Is a true love conflict inherently interesting? Hmmm, if a witch gave up her powers (powers that can make everything right at the snap of a finger) then, yes. Falling in love is a legitimate motivation for giving up something important to you, something that’s a part of your identity. Perhaps living among mortals necessitates it; it could be done by some witch government or even by herself in a fit of identity crisis. You can have all the fun of showing her getting exactly what she wants, but then do it in a way that yields to the tedium of it, as with Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. Comedy comes out of character. We can’t laugh at Jack Benny’s pause after the mugger asks him “Your money or your life!” until we know his character: the miser. So her motivation is the key.
That gives us a first act along the lines of… A) Witch falls in love with a mortal B) Witch forbidden to visit him by a father, mother or witch council C) Witch acts against warning and enters mortal realm D) By her behavior, we learn she doesn’t know much about x, y or z [hilarity ensues] E) Witch makes the guy she fell in love with fall in love with her and do nice things for her F) this becomes tedious and she, say, casts a spell that will reset time back to when she first came into the mortal realm but is so powerful she will never be able to cast a spell again
Act II then brings in several conflicts, not all inherently humorous. There is more ‘fish-out-of-water’ humor in the form of someone who has been spoiled by having everything now having to find a job, make money etc. There is the rather difficult proposition of how you go about causing someone to fall in love with you, which she will, by the end of the act, realize she can’t do. Then, there is the conflict of the angered powers that be, powers that will be tracking her, finding her, and bringing their spells down upon her defenseless head, perhaps unaware that she can’t fight back. Further conflicts, in terms of family bonds, the return of the ex-wife of the mortal guy etc. can be added to taste.
Act III could go a lot of ways, but for the sake of comedy, let’s say we’re going to try to get as many characters married at the end as humanly (and inhumanly) possible. We’ll go with the idea that the only work she can find is playing a fake witch on the Bewitched series. We’ll also allow that the mortal is the star of the show whose narcissism is an act he is beguiled into by a devilish agent. In the movie, we don’t see this villain get any sort of comeuppance. In my version, he would be turned into a spider in a bank vault, with all of the money in the world and no way to spend it. (Or some equally Dante-esque fate.) This also makes the mortal character consistent. He’s not really a jerk, therefore she’s able to love him. She’s gotten his attention but, because of the interference of the other witches who are after her, some misunderstanding, undoubtedly comical, has thrown them apart. The only way she can get rid of the interfering witches is by getting her powers back.
Here’s where planning a movie in outline before writing (ahem, Delia Ephron) helps out. Now we go back to our act one and plant the information that the only way witches gain power is by people believing in them. Therefore, the Witch must convince her would-be beau (or others, perhaps with the logic that the strongest energy comes from those who are most skeptical) that she’s a witch, except she doesn’t have her powers anymore. Her cleverness and resourcefulness in completing this task win her true love (and the audience’s sympathy), reconciles her identity crisis (she’s a witch and that’s fine and he loves her for who she is) and allows her to restore everything to it’s rightful place (and make all the other secondary characters fall in love with each other) and —
MUSIC! DANCING! Big wedding scene. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it would’ve made for a fun, internally consistent movie.
ANOTHER OPINION: The always baffling Manohla Dargis seems to have enjoyed herself but agrees with me the screenplay was wanting.
BIGGEST TRAGEDY: The filmmakers caved to ridiculous copyright pressure and digitally scrubbed out the Transamerica building.