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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Stepmom

Starring: Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon
Director: Chris Columbus
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 124 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Ed Harris, Jena Malone, Liam Aiken, Lynn Whitfield, Darrell Larson, Mary Louise Wilson

Review by Walter Frith
½ star out of 4

'Stepmom' has the worst screenplay I've ever seen for subject matter contained within its genre. Contrived, pretentious, corn ball, and shallow are just a few adjectives that would be accurate in describing it. Releasing it during the holidays and using two cute kids in marketing it is shameful as this is NOT a family film. Don't misunderstand. It is about family but the bad taste it leaves in the mouth is unacceptable for children. It starts out by telling you that two women who interact with the same man---one the ex wife, and one his current lover, will naturally hate each other at first but will come to accept and even like each other later on. I've known families and have seen it within my own family and circle of friends that once somebody hates another person, it's permanent.

Julia Roberts is a photographer in love with lawyer Ed Harris (in a completely wasted role). Harris' ex-wife (Susan Sarandon) lives alone and the couple have an older daughter and a younger son. The kids hate dad's new main squeeze and despite her attempt to like and please them, they stick it to her every chance they get. Every time Sarandon and Roberts see each other, they are like oil and water. One thinks the other is a b**** while the other sees her rival as inexperienced and unable to cope with family. Caught in the middle of all of this, naturally, are the children. One of the kids has a laugh that is so irritating that it will make you shriek to the point of wanting to throw stuff at the movie screen.

This film is like a rock that has been thrown into a pond. It sinks straight to the bottom. It goes nowhere in a credible fashion in a running time of more than two hours. The performances in 'Stepmom' are somewhat admirable but it's too bad the actors didn't have the wisdom to realize that by making the most of a bad script can't make for a good movie. 'Stepmom' has the worst poker face I've ever seen. It's obvious and doesn't know how to cover-up its sugar coated shortcomings and therefore it fails.

Chris Columbus ('Home Alone', 'Mrs. Doubtfire') directs this film without a clue as to how you go about the usual input of a director's own idea of how a film is shaped to decide its final outcome. Upon reading a script, a director can make a fairly good film from a superficial screenplay and therefore a film can be redeemed at least part of the way. The screenplay by Gigi Levangie, Jessie Nelson, Steven Rogers, Karen Leigh Hopkins and Ron Bass (five people?) has enough laughably bad dialogue to insult the intelligence of even the most casual movie fan who only sees about five or six movies per year.

As studios continue to take away more and more of a director's artistic licence, movie audiences will find less and less to appreciate, especially film buffs. With standards being lowered, box office figures continue to rise, not because audiences are pleased with the results of a final cut and keep coming back but because movie theatres are being built with bigger and better technology to distract us away from the movie and into the theatre's coffee shop, restaurant or arcade which sometimes are more entertaining.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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