'The Witches of Eastwick': THR's 1987 Review

Warner Brothers/Photofest
'The Witches of Eastwick' (1987)
A perceptive and biting look at Puritanical repression as it affects modern women.

On June 12, 1987, director George Miller released his first comedy, and his first film that didn't star Mel Gibson as Mad Max. The Hollywood Reporter's original review for The Witches of Eastwick — starring Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer — is below. 

Jack Nicholson plays “Just your average horny little devil” in The Witches of Eastwick, an entertaining, albeit uneven, conjuring from Warner Bros. that will likely cast a strong spell at the box office.

An impishly Satanic look at contemporary romance, Witches features marvelously honed performances by Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer as three sexually frustrated and unfulfilled women. Audiences are certain to be a curious mix — upscale women side by side with horror/sci-fi buffs. As a project of such diverse appeal would forebode, both fringes are likely to leave unfulfilled, feminists as well as hardware junkies.

Unfortunately, after a terrific, deliciously devious first hour, this sophisticated, comic sex battle soars out of control, blown by its own creative excesses. The second half is a bizarre melange, a curious blend of Felliniesque compositions with Lucasfilm pyrotechnics. In short, director George Miller draws from disparate aesthetic palettes, muddling the picture’s often astute sensibilities.

Witches is, in essence, a perceptive and biting look at Puritanical repression as it affects modern women. Centering on three single women languishing in the small New England burg of Eastwick, the film is a bristling and insightful look at female frustration. Independent and intelligent, the three “witches” are shackled by small-town mores and historical traditions. More pointedly, there are no intelligent, eligible men around to challenge their liberated spirits.

What if, they fantasize, a “tall, dark, prince traveling under a curse” enters their lives? And a big double-twisted zap! Into their lives comes a smooth-talking millionaire (Jack Nicholson) with a direct and decadent grin and all the right moves. He quickly lures the smitten women into the sack.

With the repressed and deserted band teacher (Sarandon), he waxes on the virtues of precision and passion; with the spunky and widowed sculptress (Cher), he decries social hypocrisy; and with the fecund and deserted reporter (Pfeiffer), he exudes cosmic serenity — in short, they all fall for his line. They all land in his wide, Borgia bed. It doesn’t take long, however, for them to realize that behind his debauched grin and disarming ways, there lurks a devious and loveless misogynist. They turn the tables.

Unfortunately, what was heretofore a bright and somewhat piercing look at male domination, as well as a perceptive insight into the female spirit, degenerates into a zap-dash, special effects war: the three “witches” vs. smiling Jack.

Further marring this essentially bright, ambitious production and indicative of its excessive largess is the costumery — Nicholson throughout is bedecked in a regalia of goofery that went out with the Ming Dynasty and '60s album covers. When you’ve got Jack Nicholson, one silly yellow suit will do.

Despite Nicholson’s attention-calling costumes, the production design is superior. Polly Platt has masterfully concocted an appropriately strange blend of New England asceticism and Saturnalic gluttony, auguring succinctly that beneath the town’s spare, Puritanical surfaces lurk wild-brewing, unfulfilled spirits. Vilmos Zsigmond brilliantly distills the setting and story’s teeming contradictions in his sharp and expansive photography. While Witches is highlighted by the three masterful performances of Cher, Sarandon and Pfeiffer, Veronica Cartwright distinguished herself as a hysterically repressed civic leader. — Duane Byrge, first published on June 8, 1987

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