April 04, 2012

MOVIES: Mirror Mirror (Tarsem Singh, 2012)

I will no doubt be raked over the coals for this one, if only because it is so chic these days to loathe anything involving Julia Roberts, but Mirror Mirror isn't bad. Not great, but a pleasant enough movie with a few real strengths.

Chief among those strengths is the visual sense of director Tarsem Singh. The sets and locations are gorgeous; there are some clever bits of stunt work, often involving the seven dwarves, who are (in this version of the story) a gang of thieving bandits; Eiko Ishioka's costumes are spectacular (they are, I think, the year's first obvious Oscar nominee).

The tone is uneven, wobbling between a lush romantic love story and a snarky pomo meta-telling of the familiar tale. Julia Roberts as the evil Queen lands solidly on the snarky side, and she dishes her zingers and one-liners with great joy. (Her very casting is a bit of meta; surely the role of an aging queen who fears losing her crown to someone younger and prettier must have resonated with her.)

On the romantic side is Lily Collins as Snow White; she's a lovely actress, sort of an Audrey Hepburn with massive eyebrows. But she's not just pretty; she pulls off the action scenes reasonably well, and sells the love story.

Bridging the two sides of the movie is Armie Hammer, giving the movie's best performance as Prince Alcott. He is, of course, ridiculously good looking -- it's a running joke that he frequently pops up shirtless, and hey, better him than Nathan Lane -- and shows a nice knack here for letting his looks be the butt of the joke. He's given what could be the most embarrassing bit of physical comedy, involving a love potion, and makes it work on the strength of his charisma and enthusiasm.

I don't want to oversell the movie. The jokes don't always land; the dwarves are given so little personality as to be indistinguishable; and Lane, as the queen's chief toady, does his usual shtick, which is starting to wear a bit thin. But this is far from the disaster that the buzz might have led you to expect.

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