Wednesday 14 March 2012

Movie Review: The Witches Of Eastwick (1987)

A metaphor for big trouble in romance land, The Witches Of Eastwick is a devilish romp through the New England countryside. Carrying echoes of the Salem witch trials, the adaptation of John Updike's novel is superficially about the devil seducing three lonely women, but is really about three women and one man getting a seemingly ideal opportunity to live the perfect romance, and learning to regret it.

In the quaint town of Eastwick, three women friends have to survive after being abandoned by the men in their lives. Alex (Cher) is an artist and single mother; Jane (Susan Sarandon) is an uptight and childless music teacher; and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a journalist with six kids. Over a not insubstantial amount of wine, the women describe their ideal man, and wish him into existence: the suave, mysterious, and apparently very rich Daryl Van Horne (Jack Nicholson) suddenly materializes in Eastwick, purchases the most expensive property, and proceeds to knock the town on its ear.

Van Horne has little trouble seducing the three women by preying on their emotional needs and desires, and soon he is sleeping with all three -- simultaneously. But Daryl is immediately identified as evil by Felicia (Veronica Cartwright), the wife of Eastwick's newspaper owner Clyde (Richard Jenkins). Felicia's ranting turns the town against the amorous quartet, transforming Alex, Jane and Sukie into social outcasts. The ladies have to find a way to reclaim a semblance of a normal life, and preferably make Daryl disappear as effectively as they conjured him up.

The Witches Of Eastwick is a comic commentary about relationships that are too good to be true, the danger of wishes becoming reality, and the societal stresses on unusual romances. Setting aside the supernatural frills, Alex, Jane and Sukie stumble upon the man of their dreams, but he turns out to be bad for their broader social lives. To survive, the women have to first shun Daryl and then try to destroy him. From his perspective Daryl works his way into a coveted male fantasy, a simultaneous romance with three willing and gorgeous women. And yet his failure to convince society at large of his good intentions proves to be his undoing.

Nicholson may have three ladies lined up against him, but they are no match for his presence. Daryl Van Horne provides Nicholson with another perfect character to unleash his intense madness, and he dominates as the smooth Lothario able to talk his way into the heart of any woman while barely bothering to conceal his egotistical intentions. Nicholson is at his best with characters who could not care less what anyone else thinks, and Van Horne needs no excuse and no permission to use an entire town for his selfish needs. Director George Miller knows that with Nicholson at his peak there is little point in providing competition, and in most of his scenes Nicholson as Van Horne sucks all attention away from anything and anyone else appearing in the frame.

Cher, Pfeiffer and Sarandon have to share time opposite Nicholson, and while none of them disappoint, the need to distribute screen minutes damages the opportunity to shine. Sarandon makes the best impression with her transformation from mousy music teacher to a raven-haired, free-spirited seductress. Cher and Pfeiffer are functional without being memorable.

The Witches Of Eastwick loses control towards the end, with a brief but still unnecessary orgy of special effects detracting from the characters and the drama. Just like the subject matter of men, women, and relationships, The Witches Of Eastwick does not have all the right answers, but it nonetheless has fun trying to find them.

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