Movie Review

Stepmom

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language and thematic elements

Reviewed by: Artie Megibben
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Genre:
Drama
Length:
124 min.

Starring: Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris, Jena Malone, Liam Aiken, Lynn Whitfield, Darrell Larson, Mary Louise Wilson, Jason Maves / Director: Chris Columbus

Chris Columbus' new movie, “Stepmom” opened to holiday audiences on Christmas day. The film represents a pet topic for director Columbus and is dedicated to the memory of Irene Columbus [his mother who died of cancer in 1997]. Since his very successful “Mrs. Doubtfire”, Columbus has had his finger on the pulse of an increasing “blended” America.

The movie tells the story of a recently divorced Dad played by Ed Harris (“Apollo 13”, “The Right Stuff”) and his two emotionally conflicted kids who have to split their time between Dad’s sleek Manhattan loft and Mom’s (Played Susan Sarandon, “Dead Man Walking”) picturesque, suburban home.

The plot revolves around the entrance of a live-in girlfriend that threatens to supplant the mother. Played by the radiant Julia Roberts (“My Best Friend’s Wedding”), Dad’s new lover, a successful fashion photographer, battles to win the affection of her boyfriend’s children while juggling her trendy career. The jilted Sarandon takes every opportunity to undermine her husband’s new flame. “I’ll hate her if you want me to Mom,” declares her eight-year-old son.

Although we sympathize with the children’s unhappiness, it is Roberts' character the Stepmom to whom our heart is meant to go out. Afterall, she’s no homewrecker, she’s really trying, and she knows all the words to the Motown classics.

One of the women contracts cancer and the remainder of the movie feels like a warmed-over version of last year’s vastly superior “One True Thing”. See, director Columbus is saying, a spare Mom can come in really handy.

The movie has its share of schoolyard profanity and embarrassing references to sexuality. Parents beware.

The performances are very good, but veteran actor Ed Harris is supremely out-gunned by these two terrific actresses. The movie ends pattly as the wicked StepMom is generously included in the Family Christmas photograph by a much-mellowed Sarandon. Fade to black, cue the Motown music and roll the credits.

Sadly, divorce and blended families rarely have such happily-ever-after endings. God hates divorce, not because he’s an old fuddy duddy, but because He is intimately aware of the pain and hardship that come out of it. Movie makers like Columbus however know that we need hope and forgiveness for our often self-centered decisions. Spinning modern myths like “Stepmom” gives our culture permission to feel it will all work out one day. Divorce isn’t easy, but it does have its upside.

Additionally, “Stepmom” offers a couple of other interesting insights into our culture. There is no moral outcry from the holier-than-thou Mother when the husband exposes her kids to his live-in arrangement with his girlfriend. Indeed, it isn’t until Harris decides to make her an honest woman that Mom flies off the handle. The message: fornication good, marriage bad. How odd! Also, the movie offers us the weak-kneed promise of an afterlife where the best we can hope for is to live forever in our children’s hearts (I suppose it works as long as you redefine the words “live” and “forever.”)

The biggest insight for me was what I got from Susan Sarandon’s character. We find by the end of the movie that she wasn’t nearly as perfect a mother as she claimed to be. In fact, it was only in her smugness she found her strength. Afterall, she was right and her husband was wrong! Afterall, her children’s lives were at stake! She was the reposistory of truth! …Kind of sounds like us Christians, doesn’t she? More Pharisee than Christ.

The real lesson for us in “Stepmom”, is that the church can’t afford to deal with the dysfunctions of this generation by patting ourselves on the back, by waving placards and feeling smug that our families may have the good fortune of being intact. We must concern ourselves instead with the weightier matters of the law… things like mercy, justice and faith. It ain’t about throwing stones folks it’s about reaching out and redeeming lives.

Year of Release—1998

Viewer Comments
I was disappointed with this movie. It could have been so much better. The language should have been toned down and the sexual situations with the daughter at school were unnecessary and detracted from the overall theme of the movie. Because of the sex issue with the daughter, I have told my friends not to let their kids watch the movie and have told them that they shouldn’t support it with their money. While I don’t agree with the father living with his girlfriend etc. at least the director didn’t show any hot and heavy sex scenes. Overall, this film was definitely very worldly.
—A Viewer in Baltimore, age 33
I think the movie was quite contradictive to Christian beliefs. It was accurate in the point that the kids were very disturbed over the situation, but at the end they made it seem like everything was ok, the ex-wife and the kids get along with his new wife. It also disturbed me that the ex-husband and his girlfriend live in the same house. This is immoral. Then his girlfriend admits that they have had intercourse to his ex-wife. It dishearted me. I would not suggest this movie to people, but if you do go keep in mind that there are some things that WILL disagree with your beliefs.
—Anonymous, age 14
I think parents want to know that this movie used the “F” word, and made a reference to a man’s flacid penis. I don’t recommend it for kids under 18.
—Anon.
Stepmom is a brilliant film because it actaully suceeds in achieving its aims. The film succeeds at being entertaining, sometimes funny, and, at times, very sad. It is very hard to watch this film and not share in the joys, laughter, struggles and tears of this broken family, and the young woman trying to find acceptance into it. This is a film full of feeling and depth of emotion. Julia Roberts may not be the best actress in the world, but in this film she proves to more than just a “Pretty Woman,” as she convincingly portrays the stepmom. The film is not about moral judgments one way or the other about divorce, broken families, and live in partners, but it accpets the reality of such sitiuations. It deals with the struggles that step parents and children go through in these situations And it does show that not all stepmoms are wicked. Having had to come to terms with both a stepmom and a stepdad, I can empathize with this film.
—David Young, age 32
A great point displayed in this movie is that children are watching their parents. I think parents/adults tend to forget that. How many times in Stepmom did the children totally catch the parents off guard, such as lines like where the little boy questions, “Can daddies fall out of love with their kids.” etc… Kids watch and usually follow their parents example, and in this movie as in life, they (the children know and “see” so much more than the parents ever thought.
—M.D.L., age 14
While my family enjoyed this movie overall, it did have its problems. Susan Sarandon is a superb actress, so I was a bit disappointed to see her portraying a mom who was bitter and vindictive 3 years after her divorce. As a recent cancer survivor, I hated that she was so dishonest with her children about her illness. It was the tear-jerker it promised to be, but with that cast it could have been so much more.
—Cheryl, age 40