REVIEW: Mirror Mirror Dazzles with Color, Wit and Just the Right Amount of Wickedness

Movieline Score:

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.

See a slideshow of Ishioka's Mirror Mirror costumes here.

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  • kirads09 says:

    Sorry, Once Upon A Time has ruined me for this or any other Snow White movie. With the exception of the original Disney one.

  • Lily says:

    Um, the preview where the dwarves go "snow way, snow who, snow what" turned me off this movie. I'm sure it is entertaining for the kids and has great costumes, but I have a hard time believing a movie that has that line has any wit.

  • Kristina says:

    Just saw it with my 13 year old daughter and 8 year old son. They both loved it. My daughter, who is a huge Harry Potter fan, said to me that the same guy directed the animated beginning who did the Harry Potter animation in Deathly Hollows. It was charming

  • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

    Almost from the start you feel the director’s / courtier's efforts to please the audience's key and only regal lady -- the blossoming young woman, traditionally picked on by patriarchy, and whose current allegiance guarantees you status as a modern man that gets to lubricate with subservience but without any contestation, the way ahead -- and so the Queen's proclamation that it is her story being told is really understood as falsehood, essentially moment one. The film pleases those who are pleased when people fuss effort over them, and much effort is fussed here: it's to update Grimm, but with every particular summoned, dissipated for its patriarchy, chill, bigotry, and anti-democratic sentiment … but with enough kept of at least the protector-man so the tentative, growing girl gets the expected satisfaction of feeling notably special, as well as the sure companionship of the adroit male draught horse who's to accompany her along, and familiarize her with, life’s unsteadying rush of dramatic new impulses … and also too, to have us forget about all that chamberlainish mechanism-pulling, curtain-raising / closing, young Queen-pacifying sweat and stress, and simply enjoy the movie.

    If there is dissent in the movie, some measure of the not fully accounted for that could maybe one locate ruin for all that’s been claimed, it’s not the late arrival of the ostensibly penultimate grim moment, the Queen’s sly bequeathing of the ruinous poisoned apple -- that “thunder” had already been claimed by the Queen’s surprise popping into Dwarvish denizens and introducing the Beast to Snow White, a silly, appropriately ill-defined entity doomed as much as everyone and everything else to register the princess’s bequest. Rather, it’s the Queen’s isolated mirror-retreat, which way trumps the dwarf’s made-to-be-domesticated forest composure to serve as the closest thing to an impenetrable man-cave in the film, and which at the end, no one but the old Queen is aware of.

    To be more clear: This film showed Brave in the previews, where the great opponent to spirited young-intelligent-girl' assent is not boys, nor Father, but very clearly pissed-off Mother, and it seems pretty clear to me that if one is to look most clearly for dissent from men in this era of female appeasement, it's going to be located in the safer armor of older lady' garb. In this film, her remaining retreat is, if slight, and hardly even still aligned to her, still the only remaining antidote to the princess’s chilling final conquestorial gesture and twirling, aggressive, proprietal dance and song at her absolutely-everyone-now dominion.

    • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

      Correction: "maybe one locate ruin" should of course read "maybe one day locate ruin."

  • kamryn says:

    stop writing page long comments! no ones going to read them. it just shows u have no life.

    • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

      Kamryn, you're right to think even a whole lot of people who shouldn't be, CAN in fact be shut down out of fear of the like of looking like they have no life -- to post more than a sentence or two of commentary these days, at least, that is, in prole comments sections (apparently, its come to the point where it's all comment/discussion sections, even likely NYT), and you're out; you might as well shuffle off all your whatever professional accolades and don McDonalds, 'cause henceforth even your friends will see you as serving fries to distance themselves from you.

      But you have to be really, really clued out, I think, to think I'd be one of them. Don't be someone who can be tamed by the slightest possibility of incurring embarassment.