Giovanni's Movie Review: MIRROR MIRROR

Relativity Media's upcoming reimagining of the classic Snow White fairy tale is directed by Tarsem Singh and stars Oscar winner Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Sean Bean and Nathan Lane and is scheduled for theatrical release on March 30th, 2012.

There are many great mysteries of our existence. And now, the following can be added to that list: Who thought it was a good idea to have Tarsem Singh - director of The Cell and last year’s Immortals, helm a light, comedic re-imagining of Snow White? That’s not to say Singh is a poor director. On the contrary, he has a remarkable eye for art direction, filling his worlds with astounding, inventive visual work. And that seems to be the main reason he landed the gig.

The fairy tale adaptation puts a big focus on excess, making the need for visuals valid. Rather than simply tell the tale from the heroine’s perspective, the script splits screen time between the charming Snow White (Lily Collins) and Queen Clementianna (Julia Roberts), an evil ruler turned evil mother after Snow White’s father mysteriously disappears. Because of that divide, a lot of time is spent in the Queen’s lavish lifestyle, as she throws massive palace parties at the expense of the poor townspeople’s taxes. That’s where Singh comes in. Brightening up his signature style, he uses his talents to create an over-the-top world filled with crazy costumes and extravagant art design. He trades in his usual grittiness for colorful CG here, making the style look less like Tarsem and more like Terry Gilliam; but it suits the story, creating a great storybook atmosphere.

It's when the visuals step aside and the story takes center stage, the execution becomes much less graceful. After Snow White tries to convince the handsome Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) to help her take down the Queen’s oppressive reign, Clementianna sends the fair lady to be executed by her bumbling right hand man, Brighton (Nathan Lane). Instead, she escapes to the woods, befriends seven bandit dwarves, and begins plotting out how to free the oppressed townsfolk. It’s a basic fairy tale template, which the writers try to spice up by twisting conventions and adding in a constant stream of jokes.

Therein lies the problem. Had an adept comedy director been chosen, the film could actually stand to be quite fun. But Singh’s inexperience with humor shows all too clearly, as most of the jokes fall completely flat. From cute quips to slapstick bits, shtick after shtick fails to land, coming off as entirely forced. It’s not as if these jokes are hysterical on paper; there’s plenty of unremarkable jokes in the writing, from awkward political humor to eye-rolling, self-aware jabs at the genre. But they’re all good-natured enough that they shouldn’t feel this tedious. The cast’s natural talents do help matters, as Nathan Lane’s knack for theatrical humor and Armie Hammer’s solid proud hunk act save a few scenes. But others suffer from the lack of comedic direction, with Julia Roberts’ good-spirited performance lacking the right panache to make the Queen any more than a dull caricature.

Lily Collins’ performance as Snow White is also commendable considering the script doesn’t give her much to work with. The writers are very concerned with creating a more progressive female lead, which is admirable. But their take on her feels like a watered down version of one of Disney’s “princesses with attitude” characters. In fact, that feeling is true of the whole project. It aims to balance snarky wit and genuine sweetness like Disney’s recent successes, but the result isn’t nearly as cohesive and satisfying as a film like Tangled.

It’s still cute enough for kids, and has enough smirk-worthy jokes to keep their parents awake, but the whole thing suffers from over saturation. There’s too much of everything. Brighton sums it up best during a scene where the Queen prepares for a party with an extensive, gross-out makeover. He asks, “Isn’t that a trifle excessive?” Yes it is.

2.5 Stars

Mirror Mirror is a spectacular reimagining of the classic fairy tale starring Oscar® winner Julia Roberts as the Queen, Lily Collins (The Blind Side) as Snow White, Armie Hammer (The Social Network) as Prince Alcott, Sean Bean (“The Game of Thrones”, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) as the King and Nathan Lane (The Lion King, The Birdcage) as the Queen's hapless and bungling servant, Brighton. An evil queen steals control of a kingdom and an exiled princess enlists the help of seven resourceful rebels to win back her birthright in a spirited adventure comedy filled with jealousy, romance and betrayal that will capture the imagination of audiences the world over.

Visionary director Tarsem Singh (Immortals) rewrites fairy tale history as a wicked enchantress (Roberts) schemes and scrambles for control of a spirited orphan’s (Collins) throne and the attention of a charming prince (Hammer). When Snow White’s beauty wins the heart of the prince that she desperately pursues, the Queen banishes her to the forest, where a ravening man-eating beast hungrily awaits.

Rescued by a band of diminutive highway robbers, Snow White grows into an indomitable young woman determined to take back her realm from the treacherous Queen. With the support of her subjects, she roars into action in an epic battle that blends spectacle, magic and contemporary humor in Singh’s signature, jaw-dropping visual style.

Directed by Tarsem Singh and starring Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane, Mare Winningham, Sean Bean and Michael Lerner, Mirror Mirror hits theaters March 30th, 2012.