Movie Review: Mirror Mirror
Not the Fairest of them All, But Still Fairly Fair
By Tom Houseman
April 3, 2012
When people talk about how Hollywood is out of ideas, I get the impression that they have been talking about films like Mirror Mirror, the first of two retellings of the Snow White story due out this year. It is very easy to criticize the yearly glut of remakes and sequels for their utter lack of originality, but in doing so, it is important to recognize when a film, in reimagining a very familiar story, is attempting to do something new with it. Just as Walt Disney put his own mark on the Snow White story in 1937, so too does Mirror Mirror, written by Melissa Walleck and Jason Keller and directed by Tarsem Singh, attempting not just to retell the story but to use the framework of Snow White to create something distinct. Which is not to say that Mirror Mirror is in the same universe as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, merely that Mirror Mirror deserves credit for eschewing formula in a mostly amusing and entertaining way.
Mirror Mirror is an inconsistent but genial retelling of the Snow White myth, attempting to find a balance between Fairy Tale earnestness and Shrek-like sarcasm. The story has the same structure that we are used to, involving beautiful princess who is sentenced to death by her wicked stepmother and instead becomes the houseguest of a ragtag band of vertically challenged forest dwellers. But Walleck and Keller take the story to some new places, reimagining certain aspects to fit more modern sensibilities while retaining a classic feel.
Tarsem Singh has created some of the most visually breathtaking movies of the century, including The Cell, The Fall, and Immortals, and seems an odd choice for an action comedy aimed at young audiences. Still, he proves his ability to use his powers for good instead of evil, or rather, for comedy instead of drama. He includes some very humorous flourishes in his direction, but as in all of his films he is mainly concerned with creating effective visuals and letting the script do the work of telling the story and bringing the funny. Of course, one consequence is that in scenes where the script is unable to do either of things, the direction is unable to mask these flaws, instead highlighting them. It is also disappointingly obvious that too much of the film's $85 million budget were spent on Julia Roberts's salary, as some of the visual effects look cheap and unconvincing.
Despite that consequence, the smartest decision in the film is to turn Mirror Mirror into the Julia Roberts show. While some may question her talent and versatility as an actress, there is no debate as to her ability to preen, flaunt, and act the part of the diva. That is all she is asked to do here, and Roberts is at her best when there is little demanded of her but to be a little outrageous, a little human, and really, really funny. She is matched in energy and panache by Armie Hammer, who is given his first chance at broad comedy for a wide audience and proves that that is where his talent lies. He is charming, yes, but it is the scenes where he gets to make himself look foolish that show just how talented he is.
Every character gets their moment to make an impression, and most do their best with it. Nathan Lane can come off as cloying when he is not reigned in, but while his comic relief sidekick to Julia Roberts' villain is far from his best work, he still makes the part enjoyable. Because Roberts does so much by herself Lane feels a little unnecessary, but welcome all the same. Almost every dwarf gets their moment to shine, and shine they do. Unlike Disney's dwarfs, this septet is a well-developed group, and Jordan Prentice, Mark Povinelli, and Martin Klebba all make their characters stand out as interesting and memorable. Sadly, this effect adds up to highlight just how out of place Lily Collins is as the film's heroine. I cannot understand how she continues to land leading roles in high profile films as she is as bland and uninteresting an actress here as she has been everywhere else.
Mirror Mirror has far too many flaws to be considered a resounding success. An awful lot of the jokes feel weak and lazy, and attempts to make the film feel fresh and modern often end up being distracting or just dumb. In an attempt to flesh out their story, Walleck and Keller trip themselves on a few snares, and particularly in the beginning Mirror Mirror drags and feels dull before it can get its engine revving. But this is the price one must pay when attempting to tell a new version of an old story, and the film's issues are a result of it attempting something new and a little different. If the flaws outweighed the film's charm then no amount of originality would save it, but fortunately the opposite is true, and Mirror Mirror, while far from perfect and not even terribly memorable, is thoroughly enjoyable, and even a breath of fresh air.