Home Alone director Chris Columbus renews his engagement with sugarcoated family life in Stepmom. Luke (Harris) has turned in his wife Jackie (Susan Sarandon) for trophy live-in lover Isabel (Roberts). Luke's kids inherit their biological mother's bitter disdain for Isabel, and the movie focuses on the sparks flying between the two women. Unfortunately, a restabilizing twist throws the post-nuclear family back into alignment and fosters a warm understanding between the sparring women.
On one hand, Stepmom quietly disassembles patriarchal leanings by squashing competent Ed Harris out of the action and letting the real drama unfold between Sarandon and Roberts. On the other hand, the independent fashion photographer played by Roberts is drifting away from her job into a traditional role of mother and wife. On the third and altogether unsettling hand, the movie backs away from all the implicitly raised questions and eases into insipid Motown sing-a-longs and a “happy” resolution. By artificially sweetening sensitive issues of familial restructuring, gender roles, domesticity, and death, Stepmom has made a movie that's easy to swallow but full of empty calories.