Retrospective Review: Witches of Eastwick

Year: 1987
Duration: 118 minutes
Director: George Miller
Writer: Michael Cristofer
Starring: Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jack Nicholson

By Juli Horsford

“The Witches of Eastwick” is not necessarily a Halloween movie, but it’s zany enough that it might help you get into the spirit. Despite the title containing the word “witches,” that word is never actually mentioned in the movie. We’re left with the opportunity to interpret the plot and the characters however we wish. Luckily, director George Miller leaves plenty of room for the viewer to extrapolate themes and messages without interfering.

The movie revolves around three single women who have a deep friendship and a mysterious ability to make things happen. Jane (Susan Sarandon) is a music teacher who experiences pretty blatant sexual harassment at work. Alexandra (Cher) is a single mother who crafts unique sculptures of naked women. Sukie (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a journalist for the local newspaper and a single mother to six children. The women meet up weekly to hang out, drink, and play cards.

Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer in Witches of Eastwick (1987) | Photo credit: IMDb

From the beginning, it seems the women have some sort of power or supernatural abilities. At one of their weekly get togethers, the women discuss their ideal man. As they discuss the mythical ideal, you get the sense they may have conjured him up. The next day, Daryl (Jack Nicholson) arrives in town and things go from a little weird to total chaos. Daryl begins to seduce the women one by one. Alexandra is head strong and initially rejects Daryl with a thundering monologue about how he disgusts her. But then Daryl somehow is able to appeal to her in a way that surprises her and they sleep together. Next up is shy and reserved Jane. Daryl gets to her by way of music, playing the piano as she plays the cello. Finally, Daryl sleeps with Sukie to make a sexual trifecta. Of course, the women eventually find out that Daryl has slept with all of them and jealousy and anger abounds.

“The Witches of Eastwick” is a puzzling movie that can be read in a variety of ways.

While playing an angry game of tennis, the women discover they have some sort of telekinetic abilities which furthers the idea that they are all witches and can exert their powers best when they are all together. They agree to share Daryl equally and begin to live rather decadently in Daryl’s mansion. The laissez-faire attitude reminded us of an odd take on sister wives. This idyllic situation is brought to a screeching halt when a woman is murdered by her husband. The women are indirectly involved in the murder because of some type of spell Daryl has cast, which shakes the foundation of their friendship and their relationship with Daryl.

Alexandra, Sukie, and Jane agree to cut Daryl out of their lives. Daryl doesn’t take kindly to this and uses his powers to make each woman’s worst fear come to light. After realizing Daryl won’t leave them alone, the women decide to confront him head on with a banishing spell which culminates in a wacky and wild scene at the mansion.

“The Witches of Eastwick” is a puzzling movie that can be read in a variety of ways. In one sense, the women are easily bamboozled by a man who knows what his powers are and how to use them. As the women learn more about their own powers and combine them together, they are in many ways more powerful than Daryl. So it could be read as a call to arms for a universal sisterhood where women look out for each other, exemplified by the women being better (and more powerful) together than apart.

It could also be read as an extremely un-feminist film, wherein three women are seduced by a man, accept that they must share him, and by the end of the movie are relegated to raising his children alone. Towards the end of the movie Jane voices that she misses Daryl despite his more unsavory traits. So despite the trials of dealing with Daryl, the women still aren’t entirely happy without him in their lives.

However you choose to read into The Witches of Eastwick, one thing is for sure, you won’t be bored. The two hour run time is packed full of spells, mystery, intrigue, sex, and friendship.

What was most enjoyable about the film were the performances and seeing some powerhouse actors gallivanting through scenes together. Cher, Sarandon, and Pfeiffer are top notch here with chemistry oozing through every scene. Sarandon’s transformation is the most extreme going from completely meek and buttoned up to overtly bold with wild hair and a strong voice. Cher steers the women forward as the de facto leader of the group and her only sign of true weakness is when she finds her bed full of snakes. Of course Nicholson is memorable for playing the likeable, crazy man. He has several scenes where he lets loose and shouts and hollers, which he is admittedly very talented at. But other than that, his performance is typical Nicholson from the 80’s, but without any shred of nuance.

Having been adapted from John Updike’s novel of the same name, George Miller had a loose outline of what to follow plot-wise and does a decent job of setting up the mysterious happenings. Miller changes things a bit from Updike’s novel but the themes stay relatively the same. However you choose to read into The Witches of Eastwick, one thing is for sure, you won’t be bored. The two hour run time is packed full of spells, mystery, intrigue, sex, and friendship. Even if you don’t like the movie all that much, you’ll be so intrigued and overwhelmed by the events unfolding that it’ll be hard to turn if off.


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