REVIEW: Mirror Mirror Dazzles with Color, Wit and Just the Right Amount of Wickedness
There’s plenty of spectacle in movies these days; it’s delight that’s in short supply, and Tarsem Singh’s Mirror Mirror offers plenty of it, shimmering like a school of minnows in a reflective pond. The picture is gorgeous to look at: There are fairytale castles topped with minarets of fluted gold, interior marble archways that look as if they might have been carved by Alfonse Mucha, ball gowns that take their inspiration from the rock-star effrontery of peacock feathers. But the story is a delight, too, a modernized -- but not too modernized -- retelling of the Brothers’ Grimm Snow White peopled with actors who polish the material to a bright glow rather than a high gloss. Mirror Mirror has a great deal of energy and wit and color, so much that it sometimes threatens to go right over the top. Somehow, though, it always stops short of being just too much -- it’s never too taken by its own reflection.
The picture opens with a beautifully animated prologue that’s a little Brothers Quay, a little Bjork-era Michel Gondry: A king and queen give birth to a daughter, but the queen dies, leaving her grieving spouse to raise the adored child on his own. He remarries, but makes the wrong choice -- and you know the rest. Except Mirror Mirror -- which was written by Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller -- follows its own merry breadcrumb path through the traditional story. With its loose-jointed colloquialisms and gold-tipped touches of romance, the picture is somewhat reminiscent of The Princess Bride, though not nearly as woolly. Lily Collins -- who played Sandra Bullock’s daughter in The Blind Side -- stars as the impossibly lovely Snow White, who has just reached her 18th birthday after a youth of de facto imprisonment at the hands of her stepmother, Julia Roberts’ wicked Queen. Snow’s father, as that prologue told us, disappeared into the forest soon after his remarriage -- he has not been seen since. Now that Snow has blossomed into a real looker, the Queen has more reason than ever to fear her, particularly since her spending habits have caused some financial troubles: She needs to remarry, fast. Conveniently, the criminally handsome Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) shows up at her castle – he’s just been mugged by merry outfit of seven you-know-whats, who have handily stripped him of most of his clothes. The Queen is dazzled by this dual vision of dollar signs and pecs, not knowing that Snow and Prince Alcott have already met in the forest and, of course, fallen instantly in love. The Queen sends Snow out into the forest with her chief lackey Brighton (a typically winsome Nathan Lane), who has orders to kill the girl. Instead, he urges her to run, which is how she lands in that commune of bandit dwarves.
And what dwarves they are! Singh, somehow, manages to make each one reasonably distinct, though their ensemble muttering is also part of their charm. When Snow tries to tell them how wicked her stepmother is, their overlapping chatter indicates that this is old news to them: “She is evil!” “She’s a bitch!” “Remember that time?” The most charming of the dwarves, Half Pint (played by Mark Povinelli, who also appeared in Water for Elephants), has a crush on Snow and doesn’t bother to hide it, occasioning much teasing from his cohorts. But even the grumpiest one -- his name is Butcher, and he’s played by Martin Klebba -- grows to like her, and in one of the movie’s liveliest scenes, he and his pals school her in the art of swordplay, Kill Bill-style, as well as in various other modes of cunning and trickery: They whirl around her like seven little Pai Mei’s.
Singh previously directed last year’s surprise crowd-pleaser Immortals, as well as the 2000 Jennifer Lopez vehicle The Cell; on the basis of those movies, you might not have expected anything this fanciful or this sure-footed, but Singh pulls it off. The able cast he’s assembled sure doesn’t hurt: Hammer makes a stunning, long-legged prince – he’s so absurdly good-looking you almost can’t look at him without laughing. Collins, with those extraordinarily present eyebrows, looks a little like P.J. Harvey and a little like Jennifer Connolly, though she emerges victoriously as her own singular, strong presence. Lane delivers every gag with just the right degree of Borscht Belt ridiculosity. Roberts is the only one who perhaps gets a tad more screen time than she should: When you put Julia Roberts in a really big dress, a little goes a long way. Still, she’s game for anything, and she’s more than willing to cede the spotlight to her younger, and relatively unknown, co-star. Plus, her extravagant pre-party beauty treatment consists of just the kind of ewkiness kids like: A parakeet-poop facial masque, a bee-sting lip plumper, a fish-nibble manicure. (The last, unbelievably, is sort of a real thing.)
The color palette of Mirror Mirror is dazzling, a pinwheel of tones that are wonderfully bright and yet always a little “off” -- cobalt snuggles up against orange; deep maroons are balanced with just the right amount of gold. (The picture was shot by Brendan Galvin, with production design by Tom Foden.) The costumes, in particular, are so stunning that I’m feeling a hankering to see the movie again, just to get a better handle on their opulent genius. They come to us courtesy of Japanese designer Eiko Ishioka, who died in January at age 73 -- I doubt we’ll see finer costuming this year. In one scene, Snow wears a big marigold cloak that falls about her person in lavish folds -- I couldn’t tell if it was made of the heaviest duchesse silk or the softest lamb leather, but either way, it’s something to behold. That’s just one measure of the playful inventiveness that has gone into Mirror Mirror. To call the movie an updating of a fairy tale may be a misnomer -- don’t all fairy tales take place in the here and now of the imagination? In any event, Mirror Mirror is bold, modern and fun -- if not the fairest of all, it is certainly much fairer than most.