Movie Review – Mirror Mirror (2012)
Mirror Mirror is a mostly charming film that is decidedly geared towards young teenagers and toddlers who will probably not mind the incredibly broad humour and Disney-esque feel that makes it palatable for family audiences. Make no mistake though, the end product feels incredibly forced and manufactured at every turn yet the atmosphere is incessantly cheery and festive enough that most parents will probably ignore the inherently saccharine aftertaste.
Mirror Mirror is yet another retelling of the Snow White fable featuring a wicked Queen, this time played with scenery chewing aplomb by Julia Roberts, who rules the Kingdom with an iron fist since the apparent death of the King many years ago. The King and previous Queen sired a daughter named Snow White (Lily Collins) who is set to ascend to the throne when she reaches adulthood yet now with only the evil Queen in control audiences everywhere will implicitly understand that she has no intention of giving up power. At the same time the Queen is incredibly vain and egotistical thinking she is the most beautiful woman in the world yet everyone knows the tale that eventually Snow White will take that mantle from her.
This particular retelling at least manages to incorporate modern sensibilities without completely ruining the fairy tale mood with a rather prescient take on the Queen and her kingdom which is now basically broke due to mismanagement of funds. Wall Street bankers and heads of mega corporations take note as the Queen easily represents them as having squandered her entire fortune on useless trinkets and a propensity for massive self-indulgence. In short, she’s one step away from the Pauper’s house and she desperately needs a plan to keep her lavish lifestyle afloat as there is only so much more tax that can be levied on the citizenry which is already starving a slow death on the sidewalk.
However, as luck would have it a wandering Prince named Alcott (Armie Hammer) arrives surreptitiously in the kingdom after having been robbed by a band of merry dwarves who overpower and strip him of most of his clothing except for a funky pair of poufy underpants. Needless to say he’s a handsome dude and when it is revealed that he is worth a fortune and has a large military force at his disposal the Queen hatches a plan to marry him and solve her monetary problems. Then again, no matter how devious her plotting she cannot get around the fact that the Prince doesn’t care for her having already fallen madly in love with the young spritely princess Snow White.
While the film itself more or less follows the general outline of the Grimm fairy tale it’s clearly meant for general admission audiences with a strong emphasis on light humour from virtually everyone involved. At the center of this new eccentric retelling of the tale is undoubtedly Julia Robert’s Queen who routinely doles out sarcastic quips and biting commentary to those around her while taking every opportunity to ham it up to the nines. This is Robert’s first major leading role in a long time and it has to be said that she throws herself totally into this character as it appears she is really having a blast playing the villain.
The Queen is undeniably evil in that she perpetually plots in self-interest but to her credit Roberts does a masterful job playing upon her own onscreen persona that she has built up through the years to great effect. Her large infectious smile that previously warmed hearts now is utilized in reverse as a kind of massive snarl to those she despises and her performance shines whenever she allows herself to be playfully evil. The same cannot be said when she turns truly evil though as Roberts then relies on a lot of over the top staring and narrowing of her eyebrows to connote anger which comes off as nothing even vaguely threatening.
As Snow White, Lily Collins visually channels the late great Audrey Hepburn with a kind of waifish innocence to her performance which works just well enough to present her as the prototypical angelic princess. New to this particular version of the tale is her ability to channel someone like Rapunzel from Disney’s Tangled as she is constructed as a modern young woman with a take charge attitude and a huge exuberance for life. At the same time she’s not only intelligent but can kick ass when needed although, in this case, the montage sequence where she learns to become an expert swordswoman is pure cheese as she goes from having no skill to guru in a span of five minutes.
What makes this scene even worse is that the viewer gets the glaring impression that she masters all these new skills in the span of a day which would make her a towering genius that could probably kick Neo’s posterior from The Matrix. Then again, just to accentuate her feminine playfulness this particular sequence also features Miss Collins in a virtual fashion shoot trying on a plethora of roguish attire in order to become the epitome of an “outlaw.” Who knew being a bandit required a strong fashion sense?
Director Tarsem Singh hasn’t exactly set the cinematic world on fire with his past work on The Cell, The Fall and most recently Immortals all of which are of dubious quality yet the one element that he certainly excels in is his eye for colour and ornate costumes, a trait that is more than evident here in Mirror Mirror. While the overall film suffers much from the same fake atmosphere present in other films such as Red Riding Hood, a by-product of being filmed entirely on soundstages, Singh at least throws brilliantly rich colours into virtually every frame to ensure audiences have plenty of eye candy to process. Yet there’s really nothing he can do with the rather bland faux snow-covered forests which made me laugh incessantly as Singh no doubt filmed a very constrained set in so many diverse ways to pretend they were all different locations. I could swear I saw the same cluster of trees over and over again even if the narrative moved to a different geographic area.
On the other hand, the costumes designed by the late Eiko Ishioka are jaw-droppingly gorgeous and unlike The Cell, at least appear to be wearable in formal occasions unlike some of the more outlandish outfits that Jennifer Lopez had to wear in that film. Ishioka’s design aesthetic is on full display here with flowery voluminous dresses that seem to cover half the floor best seen in Robert’s many costumes that feature so much peacock puffiness that it no doubt parallels the vainglorious nature of the Queen’s character. On the flip side, Lily Collins spends most of the film in much more modest attire the best surely being her wedding gown inspired ballroom dress replete with feathering swan shoulder wings and an honest to goodness swan head effigy as her headpiece. Tarsim Singh’s mastery of colours works easily to contrast both female leads with our heroine seen in brighter shades of the colour wheel while the Queen’s attire is made of darker hues.
Nevertheless, while Tarsim Singh nails the visual look of the film he allows himself to fall into the same rut as he has before by often allowing the eye candy to overpower the actual story. It also doesn’t help that the script is replete with many old clichés even if it aspires to incorporate modern sensibilities thus the audience is sure to groan when the entire romantic subplot once again begins with the classic “love at first sight” crutch that has been used so many times that it makes one wish it would be taken out back and put to pasture.
I am obviously being facetious here but one hopes that someday a smart screenwriter will realize that penning authentic teen romance plots should go far beyond making googly eyes at one another, panting for breath, or long pregnant starring into each others’ eyes as the film basically checks off every single hackneyed narrative beat that the genre has ever introduced. Additionally, I am reminded surprisingly of Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming For Dinner because in that movie the great Sidney Poitier played an incredibly well-manner intellectual African American who falls in love with a young Caucasian woman named Joanna Drayton, played by Katharine Houghton, who seriously is lacking in any positive traits save her good looks.
Unfortunately, watching a headstrong yet passionate young woman in this film’s Snow White fall for what amounts to a dunderhead yet handsome prince (Armie Hammer) is incredibly vexing and the film does him no favours whatsoever as he is essentially the punch line for nearly every joke that makes him appear to be a complete vapid Neanderthal. I give their marriage one year before she realizes that he’s got nothing between the ears and she grows bored of his constantly buffoonery. I realize Disney movies of yore can be accused of having similar issues where the flipside was on full display with hot Princesses whose only redeeming feature seemed to be their attractiveness but that is no excuse to turn one of the romantic leads into an ineffectual dolt.
Collins nails Snow White’s exuberant innocent charm which makes for a great contrast with Robert’s constant scorn and disdain for anyone or anything that doesn’t fit her fancy. However, don’t expect the film to really dive deeply into how repressed and frustrated Snow White must feel spending her whole life stuck in the castle as the light atmosphere permeates every inch of the film meaning that supposedly intense action sequences are completely lacking in any sort of tension. While the audience is intimately aware of the overall plot it might have helped to at least add some intrigue outside of low-brow humor that occasionally pops up to disastrous results as the film is far too predictable. Watching poor Prince Alcott jump around on some kind of drug-induced high pretending to be a puppy is plainly cringe worthy and I pity actor Armie Hammer for being tasked to do so.
Tarsim Singh finally gets a film mostly right here with Mirror Mirror with just the right combination of wackiness and visual élan to make the film watchable. Heck, it is eccentric enough that the film ends with an out of the blue Bollywood danceathon yet this inherently quirkiness is part of its charm. Those who buy into the vision might be pleasantly surprised at how effortlessly it flows. Still there is one sequence in particular which stuck out like a massive sore thumb as it is the only one in which the merry tone of the film suddenly turns totally dark. Without revealing exactly what it is I will say that it essentially throws water on Snow White’s entire character arc, especially hinting that perhaps she’s not as virginal as we all think and because of this it’s incredibly jarring as it leads to a massive comeuppance that doesn’t paint a very virtuous picture of Snow White at all – perhaps watching the evil machinations of the Queen throughout all those years has rubbed off more than we were led to believe.
That scene aside, Tarsim Singh has also got to thank both Julia Roberts and Lily Collins for creating two strong female leads that more than make up for the incredibly lacking narrative that is constructed from a patchwork of fairy tale sequences most audience members have already seen elsewhere. I suspect younger viewers will not care that the film skimps on having a logical flowing narrative with often abrupt editing that seems to indicate many a scene was left on the cutting room floor as the light-heartedness of the production simply acts as a kind of overpowering scent that masks most of the glaring errors.
Mirror Mirror is pure fluff but at least it is not pretentious enough to think it is high art. At the same time let me just say that if I was a Hollywood executive that this is the sort of light-weight romantic film that is custom made to be released in the November-December timeframe to take advantage of the so-called holiday spirit yet does not fit at all in its final March release window often times filled with action or ribald comedies. The marketing campaign was truly atrocious as it focused entirely on the film’s most low-brow comedy and accentuated some dialogue that did nothing but give the impression that the film was yet another money grab remake instead of playing to its visual strengths and focusing on the welcomed female empowerment subplot. Some executive is going to get fired for this apparent mess up as it did the film’s box office no favours whatsoever as I’m sure this would have had a clear path to $80-100 million in the winter movie season considering the great holds it had at the box office.
**1/2 out of ****
2012, USA, 106 Minutes, PG, Relativity Media
Directed by Tarsem Singh
Screenplay by Jason Keller & Marc Klein
Screen Story by Melisa Wallack
Produced by Brett Ratner, Bernie Goldmann, Ryan Kavanaugh
Executive Producer Jamie Marshall, Kevin Misher, Josh Pate, Tucker Tooley, Tommy Turtle, Jeff G.Waxman
Original Music by Alan Menken
Cinematography by Brendan Galvin
Film Editing by Robert Duffy, Nick Moore, Dean Zimmerman
Julia Roberts: The Queen
Lily Collins: Snow White
Armie Hammer: Prince Alcott
Nathan Lane: Brighton
Jordan Prentice: Napoleon
Mark Povinelli: Half Pint
Joe Gnoffo: Grub
Danny Woodburn: Grimm
Sebastian Saraceno: Wolf
Martin Klebba: Butcher
Ronald Lee Clark: Chuckles
Robert Emms: Charles Renbock
Mare Winningham: Baker Margaret
Michael Lerner: Baron
Sean Bean: King
© 2012 The Galactic Pillow