Friday, April 06, 2012

You should look into Mirror Mirror

I wouldn’t blame you if you thought someone paid me off to write a positive review of Mirror Mirror. I get it. I wouldn't trust me either. In fact, I only even went to it as lesser-among-evils choice.

My brother-in-law and I are fortunate (or smart) enough to have married two, extremely cool women and so we have a standing Guys’ Night Out every week where we go to the movies. Most of the time, that’s a good thing. This week: I was this close to calling it off. I actually recommended at one point that we go back and watch a movie at my brother-in-law’s place because there was absolutely nothing in the theaters that didn’t make me want to stab my own eyes out rather than think about seeing it. (I probably could have sat through The Hunger Games again, but it may say something about that movie that I really didn’t want to, as much as I enjoyed it the first two times.)

My problem with Mirror Mirror had to do with two things. First: the marketing is all very focused on Julia Roberts. I don’t have a problem with Julia Roberts in principle, but I do have a problem with her and Nathan Lane hamming up one of my favorite fairy tales for two hours. The trailers had Nathan Lane acting very Nathan Laney while Julia Roberts cracked bad jokes and whined a lot. My brother-in-law, on the other hand, does have a problem with Julia Roberts, so he was even more reluctant than I was.

My second problem with Mirror Mirror was that it was directed by Tarsem Singh (Immortals), a guy who’s shown a few times that he’s much more interested in presenting beautiful images on screen than with telling a story that makes any sense. Fortunately, he had a smart, funny script this time, written by Melisa Wallack (Meet Bill) and Jason Keller (Machine Gun Preacher).

We have another buddy who sometimes joins us for the movie, so when my brother-in-law called him to tell him what we’re seeing, the message he left was that we were going to see the Snow White film. “Not the good one that’s coming out later. The crappy one with Julia Roberts.” We came out of the theater shocked that we’d enjoyed ourselves so much.

I’m not going to lie. Julia Roberts does whine and tell bad jokes in this movie. Nathan Lane does Nathan Lane his way through it. And they are in it quite a bit, but they are not the focus of the film. This is a Snow White movie and it stays a Snow White movie; a funny, gorgeous one that tells the story from a modern, feminist perspective. Not stridently feminist, but humorously. Like when Snow White locks up the Prince and tells him that she’s going to go fight the monster to protect him because letting him do it is out of date. He protests that the traditional way of letting the Prince go save the day is a great idea. “It’s been focus-grouped and it works!” That could be a bad joke if Armie Hammer didn’t deliver it as well as he does and if he and Lily Collins didn’t convince you that this wasn’t actually about feminism, but that each actually cared about and wanted to protect the other. The feminism is incidental and kind of taken for granted. I loved that.

The rest of the film is like that too. The seven dwarfs are awesome, having more in common with Time Bandits than Disney (though you will see winks toward Grumpy and Dopey in a couple of characters). These guys all have great comic timing and when they’re interacting with Snow White, which is quite a lot, it’s a wonderful film. So wonderful that I quite willingly forgave it for Nathan Lane. Julia Roberts – it turned out – didn’t need much forgiveness for. She’s playing exactly the role she needed to play: a vain, selfish ruler who doesn’t get pleasure from harming others because she doesn’t consider other people worth thinking about in the first place.

So we came out of the theater saying, “Wow! I really liked that!” So much so that it actually makes me less excited to see Snow White and the Huntsman, a movie that looks really great in so many ways, but will suffer for not starring Lily Collins and these particular dwarfs.


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I probably wouldn't have seen this movie if you hadn't given it such a positive review. Though my avoidance up until now was has more to do with A) Tarsem's reputation for style over substance B) The embarrassment of my mother, who after seeing the trailer, continues to say "I can't believe that cast Julia Roberts as the Wicked Queen instead of Snow White.
Considering she and Julia Roberts are about the same age, theres no polite way to tell her that Julia isn't the "it-girl" anymore.

Much like yourself I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I doubt it'll make my best of list by the end of the year, but it was decent on the whole.

I think my biggest problem is the way they choose to handle the narrative. Its obvious they wanted to make this a "family" movie, so we have a simple story, injected with color commentary with modern anachronisms and a feminist angle on the tropes so that adults have something to latch on to. However, when you reference the cliches in your story, you unintentionally invite the audience to think about the cliches that you aren't referencing, like how Snow White is built up to be a strong independent woman, and yet spends the critical moment of the climax on her back not doing anything. (Wow, that sounds so wrong...)

The pieces of the film were enjoyable, but the glue holding them together was smeared along the edges.

Michael May said...

I'm so glad you tried it and liked it as much as you did. You're right on about some of the movie's flaws. I was so charmed by Snow and the dwarves (and surprised not to hate Julia Roberts in it) that the problems didn't bother me much, but I agree that there are ways to make it an even stronger film.

Thanks for giving it a shot!

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I think if it had been a musical, than it might have been better received. With all the lavish sets and costumes it certainly had all the trappings of a musical, but no, all we get is a Bollywood number at the end. Ah well.

Michael May said...


It would have had zero complaints from me with some more snazzy, Bollywood-style musical numbers thrown in.


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