The Stepford Children (1987)


USA. 1987.


Director – Alan J. Levi, Teleplay – Bill Bleich, Producer – Paul Pompian, Photography – Steve Shaw, Music – Joseph Conlan, Makeup Effects – Doug White, Production Design – Greg Fonseca. Production Company – Edgar J. Sherick Associates/Taft Entertainment Television


Barbara Eden (Laura Harding), Don Murray (Steven Harding), Randall Batinkoff (David Harding), Tammy Lauren (Mary Harding), Debbie Baker (Lois Gregson), Ken Swofford (Frank Gregson), Pat Corley (Sheriff Carl Weston), Raye Birk (George Larson), Richard Anderson (Lawrence Danton), Sharon Spelman (Sandy Gregson), Dick Butkus (Coach Tom Wilcox), James Coco (Mr Jamison)


Husband and wife Steven and Laura Harding move back to his home town of Stepford along with their two teenage children David and Mary. As Steven becomes embroiled in the Men’s Association, the children find the perfect life in Stepford and the banality of their schoolmates unsettling. When David and Mary, along with Lois, the other new girl that David starts dating, cause trouble, they find that all of the children are being turned into perfect replacements.

The Stepford Wives (1975), based on Ira Levin’s satirical 1972 novel, was not exactly a hit film when it came out. However, its premise of a small town where the men are sinisterly replacing their wives who have thoughts of independence with android duplicates that seemed to have stepped out of the 1950s gained it a modest word of mouth. For some reason, this became regarded as a hot property and The Stepford Children was the second of three tv movie sequels. The others included Revenge of the Stepford Wives (1980) and the subsequent The Stepford Husbands (1996). Several years later, the original was also remade as the theatrically released The Stepford Wives (2004) starring Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick where the premise was given a comedic playing.

The Stepford Children is a textbook case of a film that has been generated for no other reason than that someone sought to milk its predecessor for commercial possibilities. And equally it is a textbook example of a film that has been mindlessly spun off without anybody actually sitting down to think if the premise makes any sense. All that has happened is that the scriptwriter has rewritten The Stepford Wives but made it about replacing the androids wives with android teenagers. It staggers your mind to think that nobody involved in a film actually thought about how any of it would be applicable on a practical level.

Mind you, this is a problem I also had with The Stepford Wives. It seems a book and film that is predicated on nobody ever asking why men would want to replace their wives with lookalike androids. Ira Levin’s excuse in the original novel was that he was writing satire. Some of that came through in the 1975 film – the idea that men were sick of the then emergent Women’s Lib movement and wanted wives that were obedient and perfect homemakers. On the other hand, this dissipates when you try and think about the logistics involved. People marry for the sake of emotional connection and companionship and you can only think that the kind of relationship you would have to an unthinkingly obedient machine would be a rather lonely one. Not to mention the icky question of would you really want to have sex with a machine? It also seems to hold a view of men as idiots who are so absorbed in their own needs that the only other interaction they could possibly want from another human being is them robotically parroting mindless phrases and smiling without thinking.

This absurdity of the scenario seems quadrupled when you also have the men creating android duplicates of their children. There is the immediately logical question of – what purpose does replacing your children with machines serve? How does an android child age? Or are these men who are perfectly happy getting old while they have children that perpetually remain teenagers? What possible function would it serve to send a group of android children to school ie. to go through the mimicry of being in a school and the learning process day after day when the series has shown (by implication) that it can electronically install the knowledge in the brains of the androids? Why would android teenagers date each other? Or for that matter, what purpose would it be to hold a school dance for android teenagers?

You can sort of get The Stepford Children on a satiric level. In the opening moments, when the two teenagers are introduced – Randall Batinkoff entering, drinking from a carton of milk throwing the carton and missing the garbage, Tammy Lauren stumbling in with wild 80s hair and punked out friends – the film seems to be setting things up for an obvious divide. Yet the way the scene is directed, the sympathy is with Barbara Eden as the longsuffering mother and you wonder if the film is about the horror of teens being replaced by obedient androids or one that welcomes it. The film’s satire is muted – where The Stepford Wives tapped the nascent Women’s Lib movement, all that Barbara Eden seems to get upset about here is that the school doesn’t have a PTA or that it favours scholastic achievement over just letting kids be kids. Which, when you think about it, has the satiric focus of the Stepford series lurch from 1970s Women’s Lib and ERA movements to an astonishingly conservative position. The most amusing scene is where the unchanged teens take over a dance and replace the Golden Oldies the androids are dancing to with rock, only for the androids to go amok not knowing what to do.

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