Julia Roberts leads a surprisingly crisp and juicy take on Snow White in Mirror, Mirror.
WARNING: MAY CONTAIN THE SPOILERIEST SPOILERS OF THEM ALL!
In an unnamed Kingdom, Queen Clementianna (Julia Roberts) rules alone since her husband the King vanished in the forest. The entire time, she’s kept her stepdaughter Snow White (Lily Collins) sequestered in a tower to the point where the populace believes Snow to be an invalid and a shut-in. The Queen has taxed the populace to the point of starvation, and her appetite for spectacle has bankrupted the Kingdom. When the dashing Prince Alcott (Arnie Hammer) pays a visit, the Queen intends to marry him to end her financial woes. However, the Prince falls in love with Snow White, so the Queen has her sent into the forest to be eliminated. Snow is rescued by a band of diminutive bandits who help her fight back against the Queen and reclaim the Kingdom.
Mirror, Mirror is the first of two Snow White modernizations being released in 2012, beating the much more serious Snow White and the Huntsman by two months. Interestingly enough, Lily Collins initially auditioned for Huntsman, losing out to Kristen Stewart. Sam Claflin, who plays the Prince in Huntsman, auditioned for Mirror, losing the role to Arnie Hammer. However, aside from these odd casting coincidences and a basis in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the films couldn’t be more different. Mirror, Mirror is a surprisingly effective, family-friendly take on the classic tale that manages to be both modern and classic, with brilliant visuals buoyed by a skilled, game cast.
Snow contemplates the newest Apple gadget.
Tarsem Singh wouldn’t be the first person most people would think of to do a PG-rated fairy tale. The man who made his cinematic mark with dark, challenging material like The Cell going Disney? It works (most of the time) despite all the evidence that says it shouldn’t. Tarsem’s knack for brain-searing visuals is well at home on a high fantasy canvas, and the film is full of eye-popping colors and an endless parade of striking costumes by his frequent collaborator, the late Eiko Ishioka. In fact, Ishioka’s costumes sell the film on a level that nothing else in the movie can. A masquerade ball featuring animal-inspired costumes is a lesson in applied decadence, and even things like the gold cloak that Snow wears on a secret escape to the local village are so sumptuous and vibrant that they almost win the argument for 2D over 3D single-handedly. Her genius will be missed.
Above: The Queen prepares for Casual Friday.
Tarsem’s visuals are accompanied by a breezy screenplay by Jason Keller and newbie Melissa Wallack. Notably devoid of pop culture references and with a balance between reverent and sarcastic, the script sets the tone of the movie early on. The opening scene, where the background of the film is shown using porcelain dolls, is narrated by the Queen in a classic voice broken up by snarky asides. Sometimes the balance gets tipped a little, however. Aside from a joke about fairy tale endings being focus-grouped, all the witty bon mots are given to the Queen, with the rest of the cast forced to fight over the scraps. That’s intentional, yes, but it prevents most of the other characters from developing personalities distinct from their archetypes. Even with this, the script is always at least serviceable when it’s not successful, hitting much more than it misses.
There’s a reason the Queen is given all the best lines, though, and Julia Roberts is that reason. Tarsem wanted Roberts from the beginning, although she was initially reluctant to take the part. On a personal note, I’ll admit that I’ve never liked Roberts much, and I’ve always thought her talent was out of proportion with her esteem and paycheck, so this film is almost like a personal response to me by Roberts herself. Long story short, she’s brilliant, and casting her as the Wicked Queen to beat all other Wicked Queens was inspired. Roberts obviously loves the role, and she takes huge bites out of the film without overshadowing it. The Queen’s wickedness and reliance on magic is a symptom of her personal insecurity and self-doubt, something reinforced by her reflection in the Magic Mirror, who seems to delight in getting under her skin. She even has a loyal bootlicker in Brighton, a part seemingly tailor-made for scene-stealer Nathan Lane, that helps to keep her delusions in place. With her intentionally wavering accent and tyrannical, haute couture bearing, she’s like Madonna as channeled by Cate Blanchett, both sympathetic and antagonistic in equal measures.
Don’t you DARE take my witty bon mots.
Lily Collins makes for a fantastic fairy tale princess, showing many times more depth and ability than she had been called upon for the odious Taylor Lautner vehicle Abducted. While her delivery can be at times a bit breathy, she’s a pitch-perfect princess, and her transformation from shrinking violet to rebellious bandit is convincing and well-played. With a face reminding us of Anne Hathaway and a bearing like Mia Sara from Legend, she almost draws the film away from Julia Roberts at times. (Almost.) Arnie Hammer is a great Prince, as well, even if he isn’t called on to do much more than look handsome and talk imperiously. He’s shirtless a surprising amount of the time, which is not a bad thing at all, and his princely features help to sell some of the more painful bits of comedy he’s called upon to do. When the Queen puts a love spell on him, using a potion mistakenly marked as “Puppy Love,” Hammer occasionally dials the comedy up to 11, which makes it very satisfying to see the dwarves try to violently rid the Prince of the spell later.
Considered armed and dangerously handsome.
The seven dwarves are where the film truly shines. Re-imagining them as bandits is fine, but it’s the execution of the matter that really makes the film stand out. When raiding caravans, the dwarves wear stilted costumes that make them appear to be ten feet tall, resembling nothing more than a troupe of Cirque Du Soliel acrobats gone delightfully rogue. It’s another instance where Ishioka’s costumes seal the deal. They’re still given distinctive personalities, but instead of Dopey, Sleepy, etc. we have characters like Butcher, Wolf and Napoleon, who are respectively the team’s cyclical bruiser, barbarian and stylist. All seven of the dwarves are played well, even if the film doesn’t take much time to develop them beyond their main personality traits. They’re never played as cute or twee, but as a group of highly capable, surprisingly virile warriors: Half-Pint has some killer biceps, and Wolf is a bearish fantasy while still being only four feet tall.
Snow White is one lucky bit… (ahem) ...girl. There. I said it.
Despite a third act that loses the frothy tone of the film while racing toward an action finale that seems dictated from on high by producer Brett Ratner, Mirror, Mirror is a remarkably enjoyable film, even if it lacks any real weight. Sometimes, all you need is something light and airy to really hit your sweet spot, and this film delivers that in a bright red brocaded ball gown. It has its moments of oddity, like a silly-fun Bollywood-style song-and-dance number during the credits, that help it stand out and an amazing comedic turn by Julia Roberts. It remains to be seen if Roberts will win the battle of the Wicked Queens against Charlize Theron once Huntsman comes out (my money is on Theron), but for now, she’s the Fairest of Them All.
Rating: 7 out of 10 / B
JOHNNY M is a frequent FBOTU contributor and owes Julia Roberts a full apology.