Mother's Day, and Stepmom's Too
I've heard some critics and reviewers describe "Stepmom" as a good old fashioned tear jerker, well either I am missing something or just very cold hearted. Yes at times "Stepmom" is emotional, but never to the extent that it could produce a single tear as it just doesn't go all the way to really pull your strings. For me it is a good drama which at times will make you smile, at others make you think and occasionally give a gentle tug on your emotions before moving on to the next scene. But what really stands out for me are the performances of the two leading ladies, Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts who make "Stepmom" much more than it really should be.
When Luke Harrison (Ed Harris - Absolute Power) decides it's time to ask his girlfriend Isabel (Julia Roberts - Conspiracy Theory) to become his new wife, it doesn't go down well with either his two children or his ex-wife Jackie (Susan Sarandon - Twilight), who thinks Isabel is a selfish career go getter who is incapable of looking after her children. But when Jackie discovers that she has terminal cancer, attitudes have to change.
I actually quite like the storyline to "Stepmom", with the mother starting out to upstage the Stepmom at every possible opportunity; in fact the opening sequence which shows how clueless Isabel is at parenting even made me smile. Even the way the story turns around with the frostiness between Isabel, Jackie and the children melting is well worked and let's rise to some great scenes. But, I do have one issue with the whole thing and that it is everything is just too picture perfect. Isabel is just too nice and for someone who is so focussed on her career seems to manage to do everything with far too much ease. The animosity between Jackie and Isabel never really does more than skim the surface and sadly fails to have full impact due to this.
But the one thing which really did spoil "Stepmom" for me was that it tried to pack to many scenarios in and ended up rushing through them causing the each one to fail to deliver the optimum impact. For example when Jackie learns that her cancer is terminal, it doesn't give you enough time to dwell on the fact before it jumps to the next scene which is usually a little bit light hearted. Yes this helps to make the movie not too morbid but it also spoils those emotional moments which would have turned "Stepmom" into a proper tear jerker.
As I previously mentioned, the real saving grace for "Stepmom" are the performances of Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts who not so much carry the movie but make it an enjoyable watch despite the flaws in the plot. For me it felt like the character of Jackie had been written with Sarandon in mind, she fitted it perfectly. With a character which I felt didn't have enough depth she managed to convey how much she despised Isabel, but also managed to show the softer side when she slowly let the barriers down. Like wise with Roberts, she was perfect as the good looking girlfriend who was so focussed on her career that she was inept at parenting, but then the way her character grows as she becomes more confident with the children is a joy to watch, if not a little overly sickly.
Where I did struggle was why Isabel would be interested in Luke, played by Ed Harris. Now don't get me wrong as I rate Harris as an actor but I felt it quite hard to imagine them as a couple, let alone husband and wife. To be honest Harris is more of a supporting actor in "Stepmom", and is in the uncomfortable position of being in the battle zone between his ex-wife and girlfriend, but he does a pretty good job of it and I actually had more sympathy for him than any other character. Making up the film are the two children, Anna and Ben played by Jena Malone and Liam Aiken respectively. What is there to say, Liam is cute as the young Ben and Jena is very good as teenage Anna who dislikes Isabel and wants her parents to get back together. They do their jobs perfectly but then I would more than likely say the same of any child actor who was cast in the roles.
What this all boils down to is that I don't believe I am in the target audience for "Stepmom", and would hazard a guess that the ideal viewer would be female, due to the nature and focus of the story. But even so I still feel that although "Stepmom" is a well worked drama it has some significant flaws which spoil its overall viewing pleasure, well for me anyway.