Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mirror Mirror

MIRROR MIRROR (Tarsem Singh, 2012)

MIRROR MIRROR retells the story of Snow White (Lily Collins), although The Queen (Julia Roberts) insists this account belongs to her.  Snow’s father, The King, disappeared many years ago and is presumed dead, which leaves her at the mercy of her cruel stepmother.  

Snow’s youth and beauty threaten The Queen, and she keeps the girl confined to the palace grounds.  On the cusp of her eighteenth birthday Snow sneaks out and encounters Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer), who has been robbed and bound by small bandits.  After freeing him, she heads into the nearby town and discovers that the Queen has made the lives of these simple folk quite miserable.

The Prince’s arrival offers the prospect of economic salvation through marriage for the financially strapped Queen, but first she needs to remove Snow White from the picture. She arranges to have her killed, but her servant Brighton (Nathan Lane) can’t follow through, not that he tells The Queen.  Snow is taken in by the jolly band of thieves and plots to overthrow The Queen.

The ill fit between MIRROR MIRROR’s screenplay and its director's sensibilities dooms the comedic fairy tale from the outset.  Tarsem Singh excels at staging visual extravaganzas, and in that respect he often delivers what one desires from a fantastical story like this. Costume designer Eiko Ishioka’s work on MIRROR MIRROR, her final film, features strange and imaginative outfits.  Ishioka’s arty creations in her other collaborations with Singh have ranked among the most memorable aspects of those films.  In this instance the clothes steal the show from their wearers, making this umpteenth rendition of SNOW WHITE nearly worth seeing for the peculiar attire alone.
The sets, which look like they were built on a studio lot in the 1950s or ‘60s, produce an effect similar to that in pop-up storybooks.  While it’s an inspired flourish, sometimes the surroundings appear cheaply constructed and washed out.  Singh presents a visually distinctive world for the familiar tale, but in paling in comparison to the lavish lands of THE FALL and IMMORTALS, it seems like a halfhearted or budget-restricted attempt.

Singh’s handling of scripts does not match his knack for imagery.  This weakness is more visible than ever in MIRROR MIRROR.  The silly jokes and whimsical tone collapse under Singh’s heavy hand and lack of timing.  Roberts’ catty take on the evil Queen and Hammer’s uninhibited goofiness hint at the potential for a winking tribute to and fond puncturing of fairy tales a la THE PRINCESS BRIDE, but MIRROR MIRROR is more labored than playful.

To its credit, MIRROR MIRROR makes more interesting characters out of the dwarves than they’re usually granted.  Still, the snarky humor comes off as tired and obvious, and weird accents, like the queen’s disgusting beauty routine and a wildly out-of-place rape joke, seem better suited for a film that isn’t otherwise tame kiddie fare.  

Grade: C-

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