Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Sean Bean, Mare Winningham DIRECTED BY
Tarsem Singh SCREENPLAY
The Grimm Brothers (Original Story), Jason Keller, Melissa Wallack MPAA RATING
Rated PG RUNNING TIME
106 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY
Relativity Media DVD EXTRAS
Interactive Menus; Featurettes; Scene Selections
There are few directors as gifted at creating visual masterpieces as Tarsem Singh, the visionary filmmaker behind such films as The Fall and The Cell. While his 2011 epic Immortals was underwhelming, I still found myself strangely excited at the prospect of his attempting a re-imagining of the Grimm Brothers' classic fairy tale of "Snow White."
At his worst, Tarsem is a visually compelling and visionary filmmaker. If nothing else worked in Mirror Mirror, it would be worth watching for anyone wishing to immerse themselves in a magical universe. Yet, "immersion" is precisely what's missing from the vast majority of Mirror Mirror, a beautiful but wildly uneven film with erratic humor, tepid heroism and cinematic bits that often feel ripped right out of other more successful films.
In fact, it feels like the tone that Tarsem is going for here is quite similar to that of Disney's Enchanted, one of that studio's most successful live-action fantasies in recent years. While there's no question that Mirror Mirror is intended as a darker tale, the two films seem to share a love for dry humor, moments of delightful innocence, a sort of tongue-in-cheek approach to adventure and, in fleeting moments, an almost Monty Python-like approach to its physical presentation and comedy. The problem is that Enchanted, whether you appreciated the film or not, actually committed to its approach and went full gusto into it. Mirror Mirror, on the other hand, seems to flail about between oddball comedy, silly swashbuckler, light romance and traditional fairy tale with no clear sense of direction.
Mirror Mirror is the first of two Snow White films to be released this year, with the darker Snow White and the Huntsman due on June 1. The film opens with a lovely animated sequence in which we learn the story of Snow White (Lily Collins). Her father (Sean Bean), the King, rules a happy land where all is well and she is very, very loved despite her mother having died during childbirth. It is known far and wide that one day this kingdom will be led by Snow White, a beautiful young girl very much like her father. When the King eventually remarries, her life remains quite beautiful until one day her father disappears while in the Dark Forest. Her Stepmother (Julia Roberts), known as the most beautiful woman in all the land, becomes increasingly obsessed with maintaining her beauty at any cost. The kingdom is quickly stripped of its resources, the people suffer and Snow White is locked away in her room until this time when the film actually opens and she is turning 18-years-old.
Snow White, encouraged by one of the Queen's servants (the lovely Mare Winningham), one day leaves the castle and subsequently has an encounter with a handsome Prince (Armie Hammer) and a rather delightful and very Time Bandits like group of, you guessed it, seven Dwarfs (though not traditionally named!). Snow White eventually crashes a grand ball intended to be the Queen's chaste seduction of this handsome Prince that will save the nearly financially ruined kingdom, an act that leads to her expulsion into the aforementioned Dark Forest where she aligns herself with the Seven Dwarfs in a way that is chaste with hints of flirtatiousness. Their unity will lead to a confrontation with the Queen and an effort to take back the kingdom for the sake of all that is good and right.
The biggest problem with the vast majority of Mirror Mirror is the overriding "Been there. Seen that." feeling that permeates virtually every moment of the film. There's nothing truly bad about the film, but there's also never that "Aha!" moment that makes you realize why we needed yet another version of this classic fairy tale. Mirror Mirror consistently entertains on a fairly modest level, and it's hard to imagine that anyone will necessarily feel their time wasted by seeing the film. However, given the visionary work usually offered by Tarsem, it's hard not to be at least moderately disappointed by what amounts to a disjointed, uneven and only marginally satisfying fairy tale.
The one who most nails the perfect tone here, not so surprisingly, is Julia Roberts as the Wicked Stepmother. Roberts is a solid blend of fairy tale menace, witty banter and comic timing. Despite its existence as one of the film's better scenes, I question the drastic tonal shift of Roberts' character in the "puppy love" scene, a scene given away in the film's trailer, where our "Wicked Stepmother" abruptly turns into such an adorable and playful "master" that you almost wish for her to end up happy.
Lily Collins, the daughter of rocker Phil Collins and in her first major leading role, is generally fine but a tad bland as Snow White. She brings to mind the personality of Mia Wasikowska in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, but Wasikowska was able to use that persona to her advantage and find creative ways to use it. Collins, on other hand, seems to be playing a cross between Ella Enchanted and The Princess Diaries.
On a bit of an aside, I must agree with an observation made by film critic Roger Ebert. Ebert noted quite astutely that Collins bears a rather remarkable resemblance to Audrey Hepburn at several points throughout the film, a resemblance that is captivating and can't help but make you wonder if Collins needs to just get a bit more experience under her belt before she starts pulling off really great performance.
Or, alternately, she may turn into an obscure indie queen not too far removed from Liv Tyler.
Armie Hammer is also quite fine here as the Prince, though again the performance constantly brought to mind the more successful performance of James Marsden in Enchanted. Hammer's Prince is sort of a role reversal from the fairy tale, with Snow White being the rescuer and pursuer, a fact made ever so slightly uncomfortable by the script's absolute insistence on reminding us of Snow White's being chaste and having just turned 18-years-old.
The script, by Indiana native Jason Keller, is as erratic and inconsistent as Keller's first big Hollywood film, Gerard Butler's Machine Gun Preacher. There are occasionally funny bits in the film surrounded by what feel like almost desperate attempts to be funny, witty or banterish (I made that word up!).
At the very least, I had hoped to be able to fully immerse myself in this world created by Tarsem. While Mirror Mirror is visually compelling, it is neither realistic enough to be bought into nor magical enough for one to become fully immersed into. The Dark Forest is visually appealing, but quite obviously a constructed world that isn't nearly as menacing nor frightening as its reputation. The "Beast," a mostly referenced to presence in the Dark Forest that makes its key appearance near the end, looks more like Puff the Magic Dragon on steroids.
That's not a compliment.
Despite all the problems I had with the film, the simple truth is I never for a single minute regretted being in the audience and, in all honesty, actually enjoyed myself on a modest level for a good majority of the film. The Dwarfs, given more personality than usual, were easily the film's highlight and worthy of a film all their own. Mirror Mirror may not be the fairest film of all, but even in his weaker moments Tarsem is a compelling filmmaker worth a view.