Mirror Mirror – Tarsem Singh
This bizarre, wry, post-modern re-working of the Snow White Fairy Tale has its moments: themselves bizarre, and wry but sadly not frequent enough. Out go Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy and Dopey: in come real dwarfs (dwarves?) Napoleon, Half-Pint, Grub, Grimm, Wolf, Butcher and Chuckles. Being a dwarf called ‘Half-Pint’ must be about as low as self-esteem can get. As ‘dwarf’ suddenly seems mysteriously to have been re-instituted as a politically OK form of description and dwarf-chucking an appropriate relaxation activity for British rugby players in Australia, I’m gonna make no effort at sensitivity in this review because the totally chaotic tone of this piece leaves no established safe boundaries in place.
I should confess: I have an aversion to ‘Fairy Tales’. As a most-nights bedtime reader to my kids, my heart sank when they wanted ‘rule-of-three’ stories which always presented the risk that the wrong participant in an otherwise delightful process (which I miss horribly) would fall asleep. The fairy tale seems to me to be a tedious misuse of the very satisfying rule-of-three tempo in comedy and rhetoric which I instinctively like and use: as in “How do you get to my place? “Go down to the corner, turn left and get lost.” Wikipedia has another nice one: “I can’t think of anything worse than a night drinking and waking up next to someone not being able to remember their name, or how you met, or why they’re dead.”
I digress. The other thing about fairy tales I don’t get is why some women, and I stress some, seem to buy into the Handsome Prince Charming thing. Sour grapes perhaps because I am not handsome, princely nor especially charming. (That’s some rule that rule-of-three, you find it everywhere). More germanely, the traditional Prince Charming seems to me to be a guy’s idea of what a woman’s ideal man ought to be like: it’s patronising because it makes women seem like dreamy airheads; and dishonest because no man would want to be such a lifetime wuss anyway. As for Freud – don’t even go there.
I’ve digressed further. There’s more than a hint of the William Goldman deliciously scripted Princess Bride (1987) in this hip Snow White – or ‘Snow’ in her post-modern incarnation. Writer Melissa Wallack and Director Singh have screwed with the plot a bit but as you will have gathered tradition-wise they are no purists.
Snow White is the King’s daughter from his first marriage. When mum kicks off he remarries Julia Roberts who is jealous of Snow’s beauty and place in the affections of the King. One day the King buggers off on his horse into the forest and never comes back: which seems to be taking the post-modern realist thing a bit near the knuckle. Queen J goes through her mirror on the wall into a weird grass hut in the middle of a mist-covered lake where she talks to an alter-ego reflection full of dire warnings of the be careful what you wish for variety. Roberts has a ball with this tosh adding as usual, for this actress whose talent actually exceeds her stardom, an air of authority that wrings every ounce of fun out of the writing.
Queen J has turned a sunny idyllic land of laughter and happiness into an icy, over-taxed, downtrodden land of malcontents (maybe her maiden name was Osborne). She locks Snow away with the aid of her flunky chancellor whimsically called ‘Brighton’ – a nice little Nathan Lane shtick cameo but under-written.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the forest, somewhere between long-long-ago and happily-ever-after, wussy Prince Alcott (missed a trick there – ‘Alcock’ would have got a cheap laugh) accompanied by his own flunky Charles Renbock (?!) no I have no idea about the names dear reader – please don’t shoot the messenger. The Etonesque chums are attacked by the aforementioned drove (?) of dwarfs fetchingly be-stilted to make them look like giants. Eventually in the first of three (yawn) such incidents the wuss formerly known as Prince fetches up before Queen J inexplicably stripped to the waste, sorry – waist. Queenie gets the hots for Al and resolves to marry him bringing all her worldy debts with him to endow.
Snow escapes and teams up with the Magnificent Midget Seven where of course she is trained out of her wimpy womanhood into a Hunger Games Heroine more inclined to kick masculine ass than lust after it.
There’s a potion thing and a couple of spells; a bit of desultory swordplay and a final twist about as surprising as the ending of the stories I’d told my kids for the umpteenth time. Sean Bean pops in for a couple of hours one slack afternoon in August to knock off his role as the King and all’s well that ends well.
There are some good Woody Allenesque moments among the dwarves (dwarfs?) with the guys delivering some nice ironic (s)elf-mockery with a keen sense of comic timing. Armie Hammer (no, believe it or not – that’s not a silly made up name it’s a silly real name. What’s wrong with ‘Jack’ I want to know), is sort of OK in the thankless part of the Prince, seamlessly going all the way from rueful discomfort to all out embarrassment with an engaging ease. Phil Collins’ little girl Lucy makes an adequately post-modern Snow, but the real class on show as ever, is the almost infallible Ms Roberts. We can only hope that someone produces some writing that her class deserves but I won’t hold my breath in today’s Hollywood.
A strange, slightly surreal night at the movies: but not without its moments of fun. Be sure to stay for the credits as the whole cast suddenly break out into a funky Indian Rock sequence so totally out of keeping the rest of the film I must assume is it driven more by the Director’s ethnic pride than narrative closure.
Filed under: Tarsem Singh