Friday, March 30, 2012

FILM REVIEW: "Mirror Mirror"

For quite some time, Tarsem Singh's joyous reiteration of the Snow White fairy tale went without a name, though I admit that I would still have been excited to see "Tarsem Singh's Untitled Snow White Project". It has kind of a jaunty ring to it, but no less than "Mirror Mirror" does. It seems like this could so easily have been titled "Snow White and the... Whatever... Just Give it a Name", but it means something to me that Tarsem took so long landing on a title for a film that was well into production, and perhaps already wrapped up shooting. It was the first thing I thought about heading into the theater, but the last thing that was decided upon. Perhaps that's because Tarsem realized the film's potential as, in itself, a sort of fun-house mirror upon the world it being released upon.

Perhaps I'm reading a deal too much into it, but "Mirror Mirror" didn't seem preoccupied with telling a simple story that's been told countless times before, or putting it into a genre context like "Snow White and the Huntsman" looks to do much later this year. It was much more of a retelling in a different context, being mindful of the landscape the film is coming out to, in both a literal and slightly sexual sense, in this day and age. Not every film would dare be so unhinged and flamboyant in every waking moment of its runtime, but Tarsem pulls it off without ever losing the heart of the film.

The Snow White in this film is cooped up in her castle by the eccentric and careless Queen Clementianna, who isn't so much evil as she is hilariously off-kilter and self-absorbed. Snow White, meanwhile, isn't turned into a one-dimensional princess with no ambition. It seems like such a simple move for her to be compassionate towards her people, but it adds a dimension to her that makes her more than just a pretty face. It's that selfless motivation that puts audience respect on her side, but there's a complexity in that she lacks the self-respect that the Queen has in spades. It's an decisive and compelling contrast that sets the board nicely.

And of course it goes without saying that Snow's explorations get her banished into the woods, where she is taken up by a caravan of skilled dwarf bandits who shift her into a skilled warrior. And lest we forget Prince Alcott, who stumbles into the story with a thirst for adventure, an overconfidence not dissimilar from the Queen's, and a body cut far too much like Adonis for his own good. He falls ignorantly into the Queen's company, unknowing of her plans to trick him into marriage so that her financial status may not be so dire. What gives this film a leg up against the numerous fairy tale farces that have spun from the "Shrek" franchise is that it isn't simply making jokes off of its own source material, but working in a riff of below-the-belt political insight.

As a matter of fact, "Mirror Mirror" is about as stunning a deranged portrait of our world today as any, with figureheads parading into office whilst ignoring the plights of many people who are only left to flail for themselves, with nobody to come to their aid. And even if the political farce is only filling in the cracks of the film, there is ample wit in plenty other areas. "They called her Snow White, probably because that was the most pretentious name they could come up with", says Julia Roberts with a mindfulness of the story's illustrious history and a basic contempt for it. It's a cunning spin on its own conventions, but not a denouncing of them.

Another one of the film's stronger and more favorable changes does have to do with the titular mirror, which is quite literally a manifestation of the Queen's own reflection, a conscious that the Queen has a greater capability of ignoring than most. The film also does a good job of growing the audience's contempt for the queen over time, giving Roberts the chance to spin all the eccentricity and tight-bound anxiety she can out of the character, and still have more tucked in the wings when needed. She doesn't forget that she's the villain of this tale. She just tucks it away in the back of her mind as a secret weapon to whip out when most needed. But she isn't entirely contemptuous, and there's even a hint of honesty in her eyes towards the end.

The rest of the cast is no less stunning in their roles. Armie Hammer proves to be most capable in a comedic context, like that which he flaunted first in "The Social Network", but he's so completely endearing and handsome as to get away with all the silly and ridiculous things Tarsem puts him through. And hell, by the end he's not a completely useless Prince, but one who has to prove his usefulness in what he chooses to fight for. The whole group of dwarfs is absolutely winning, though if there's one who rises as chief it's Jordan Prentice, memorable mainly as the midget from "In Bruges". Nathan Lane is the wittiest and most pleasant addition to the cast, especially in how he sneaks in mildly dark, not exactly PC jokes in under the wire.

Lily Collins also proves to be a sweet and feisty protagonist in the Snow White role that could have been so sadly typical. Indeed there may be more than a small bit of craziness going on in this film's noggin, but I fell entirely and foolishly in love with all the silliness, perhaps stupidity, and dunderheaded romance of "Mirror Mirror", not to mention the flawless production design and immaculately strewn costume design. If Eiko Ishioka doesn't receive a post-humous Oscar next year for the latter, I will hold that as another noticeable stain on the Academy's tapestry.


  1. I might see this, but I'm not sure.

    I love Tarsem's work, but this looks way too kiddie for me, and I love kid's movies!

  2. I will definitely go and see it! thanks for the review..