Loosely based on the John Updike novel of the same name, George Miller’s sly satire of the gender wars brings a dusting of dark magic to the hollow lives of a sleepy New England town of Eastwick.
Alexandra (Cher), Jane (Susan Sarandon) and Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) are close friends who support each other through the trials and tribulations of small-town single life. When, one night over some home-made cocktails, they decide to figure out what their dream man would be, they somehow conjure up a devilish stranger who moves into a nearby country estate. As the three are drawn in by his mysterious raw magnetism, they discover their own powers are growing but as they embrace their abilities, strange and disturbing things start happening to the townsfolk.
There’s a deliciously feminist attitude running through the film, from the framing of the coven of witches, not in the traditional sense of the maiden, the mother and the crone, but redefined by their utility to men: one is widowed, one abandoned by her husband because she was infertile and one abandoned because she was too fertile. Their lives and identities are defined by the patriarchal society of conservative small-town America, where the whiter-than-white church and petty local politics rule all.
Shattering this archaic idyll, Darryl Van Horne (a sensationally sleazy yet irresistible Jack Nicholson) arrives, representing the very worst of masculinity as he sets about seducing and corrupting the three good friends. The joke is, of course, that Van Horne – the proxy for male entitlement – has very little actual power of his own. What magic and mischief he is able to wield he does by harnessing and exploiting the burgeoning power of the three women, ensuring their focus is kept on fighting their perceived enemies, such as town busybody Felicia Alden (Veronica Cartwright) instead of embracing their power for themselves.
The ending might get a little bit silly and overblown with what now looks like dated effects work but it’s all worth it for what comes before. Cher, Sarandon and Pfeiffer are superb, especially Sarandon’s transformation from uptight divorcee school teacher to confident, sensual freedom and all three develop distinctly different but equally intoxicating chemistry with Nicholson.
Funny, sexy and razor sharp, Miller keeps his camerawork unobtrusive and lets his cast do their thing, supported by John Williams’ excellent, Oscar-nominated score. A sardonic riposte to The Handmaid’s Tale, “The Witches Of Eastwick” brings together witchcraft and female empowerment and celebrates rather than demonises either.
If you haven’t seen it, be prepared to fall under its spell and, at the very least, never eat cherries in quite the same way again.