×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Mirror Mirror

This Snow White retelling suffers the same fatal flaw as Julia Roberts' evil queen: It doesn't really care about anything except how pretty it looks.

With:
The Queen - Julia Roberts
Snow White - Lily Collins
Prince Alcott - Armie Hammer
Brighton - Nathan Lane
Baker Margaret - Mare Winningham
Baron - Michael Lerner
King - Sean Bean

Early on in director Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s retelling of the Snow White legend, a prince mocks a dwarf: “You’re short, and it’s funny.” “Mirror Mirror,” alas, is neither. Poised between revisionist fairy tale and smirking sendup, this gaudy, over-frosted cream puff of a movie half-heartedly positions its famous heroine as a dagger-wielding proto-feminist, yet ultimately suffers the same fatal flaw as Julia Roberts’ evil queen: It doesn’t really care about anything except how pretty it looks. Bowing opposite strong fantasy-themed B.O. competition, the family-friendly Relativity release should nonetheless capitalize on its accessible story elements, marquee talent and distaff appeal.

Set in a faraway kingdom where castles look like pastries and vice versa, the picture is nothing if not a triumph of art direction; in scene after scene, the filmmakers seem to be seeking new visual definitions for “ornate,” “opulent” and “gilded.” The lavish look will come as no surprise to devotees of Tarsem, the delirious fantasist behind such oppressively gorgeous pictures as “The Cell,” “The Fall” and last year’s “Immortals.” Retaining most of his regular crew here, the director was arguably a shrewd choice for the job, capable of bringing his undeniable visual gifts to bear on a more familiar, less self-indulgent story than he’s previously tackled.

Alas, the script — written by Marc Klein and Jason Keller from a screen story by Melisa Wallack, with a hefty but uncredited assist from the Brothers Grimm — is a mostly mirthless affair, littered with stray amusements but more often bogged down by strained whimsy. Rife with anachronisms like “agree to disagree,” “I just need to process” and, in one particularly non-magical moment, “your tax dollars,” the film displays an unseemly delight in its own putative cleverness, taking its tonal cues from the self-satisfied sneer worn by its reigning villain.

That would be the queen (Roberts), she of the wobbly British accent, whose arch once-upon-a-time narration fills viewers in on how she bewitched the king into marriage, seized control of his dominion and locked away his beauteous daughter, Snow White (Lily Collins). Long since widowed, the vain queen has become a prowling cougar with romantic designs on the visiting Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). But the handsome royal becomes smitten with the more age-appropriate Snow, who flees into the nearby forest when the queen orders her death.

In line with the film’s unsparingly hip, politically correct girl-power sensibility, Snow’s journey to happily ever after now involves mandatory weapons training and political activism. When the princess learns the queen and her loyal lackey (a game Nathan Lane) have been taxing the local villagers to death, Snow not only comes to the town’s rescue but, in a “Robin Hood”-style twist, encourages her new friends, the seven dwarfs, to raid the queen’s treasury and give back to the poor, which these pint-sized bandits manage by running around the forest on stilts.

If 2007’s “Enchanted” succeeded in skewering classic fairy tales, specifically “Snow White,” while retaining a winning earnestness at its core, “Mirror Mirror” never musters the comic energy or emotional sincerity needed to refresh its well-worn story. The arbitrary developments that dominate the later reels in particular leave one feeling the script didn’t command half as much creative decision-making time as, say, the precise curvature of the queen’s oyster-shell-like throne, to name but one particular of Tom Foden’s painstaking production design.

This slack, hesitant quality also emerges where it counts most, in Roberts’ performance. While the actress clearly relishes the opportunity to play mean for a change, she’s less a memorably ruthless baddie than a figure of mildly supercilious comedy, a tactic that largely fizzles along with much of the film’s intended humor, with the exception of one tightly cut, wickedly funny sequence detailing the queen’s insect-heavy beauty treatments.

Initially polite and demure, only to manifest a fierce, spunky integrity later on, Collins animates her pale-skinned, raven-haired archetype with grace and poise, while Hammer’s cocky but lovable prince proves rather too willing to sacrifice his dignity as needed. (One running gag involves the prince forever losing his shirt, bearing out the auteurial signature Tarsem established with the bulging male torsos of “Immortals” and “The Fall.”) Though stuck with fairly routine peanut-gallery bickering, the seven actors cast as the dwarfs make an endearing comic team, with Danny Woodburn, Martin Klebba and Mark Povinelli among the standouts.

Full of snowbound landscapes seen to glossy advantage in d.p. Brendan Galvin’s well-composed images, the effects-heavy production conjures little magic or excitement in its action-driven setpieces, as when Snow does battle with a bargain-basement Jabberwocky. The sumptuous and elaborate outfits, which include a white swan headdress that would make Bjork molt with envy, rep the final film creations of Oscar-winning costume designer and longtime Tarsem collaborator Eiko Ishioka, who died in January.

Popular on Variety

Mirror Mirror

Production: A Relativity Media release and presentation in association with Yuk Films of a Goldmann Pictures, Relativity Media, Rat Entertainment and Misher Films production. Produced by Bernie Goldmann, Ryan Kavanaugh, Brett Ratner. Executive producers, Tucker Tooley, Kevin Misher, Jeff Waxman, Robbie Brenner, Jamie Marshall, Jason Colbeck, Tommy Turtle, Josh Pate, John Cheng. Co-producers, Kenneth Halsband, Nico Soultanakis, Ajit Singh Dhandwar. Directed by Tarsem Singh Dhandwar. Screenplay, Marc Klein, Jason Keller; screen story, Melisa Wallack.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor), Brendan Galvin; editors, Nick Moore, Robert Duffy; music, Alan Menken; music supervisors, Happy Walters, Bob Bowen; production designer, Tom Foden; supervising art directors, Ramsey Avery, Isabelle Guay; art directors, Jean-Pierre Paquet, Real Proulx, Nicolas Lepage; head set decorator, Jille Azis; set decorators, Martine Kazemirchuk, Daniel Hamelin; costume designer, Eiko Ishioka; sound (Dolby/Datasat), Patrick Rousseau; supervising sound editors, Robert C. Jackson, Martyn Zub; re-recording mixers, Leslie Shatz, Gabriel J. Serrano, Chris David; visual effects supervisor, Tom Wood; visual effects, Prime Focus, Tippett Studios, Rodeo FX, BarXseven VFX, Modus FX, Newbreed Visual Effects, Mokko Studio, Comen VFX, Digital Dimension, NeoReel; animation, Ben Hibon; stunt coordinator, Marc Desourdy; fight coordinator, Jean Frenette; associate producer, Andy Berman; assistant director, Jamie Marshall; second unit camera, Bert Tougas; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. Reviewed at AMC Century City 14, Century City, Calif., March 28, 2012. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 106 MIN.

With: The Queen - Julia Roberts
Snow White - Lily Collins
Prince Alcott - Armie Hammer
Brighton - Nathan Lane
Baker Margaret - Mare Winningham
Baron - Michael Lerner
King - Sean BeanWith: Joey Gnoffo, Martin Klebba, Ronald Lee Clark, Mark Povinelli, Jordan Prentice, Sebastian Saraceno, Danny Woodburn, Robert Emms, Bonnie Bentley.

More Film

  • German Cinema Is Diverse, But Is

    German Cinema Is Varied, But Is It Too Risk Averse?

    One of the strengths of German cinema is its diversity, says Simone Baumann, managing director of the national film promotion agency German Films. As well as the three films at Toronto directed by female German helmers, there was also German filmmaker Thomas Heise’s documentary film essay “Heimat Is a Space in Time.” Then there were [...]

  • Female Filmmakers in Germany Make Progress

    Female Filmmakers Surge Forward in Germany, But Still Face Obstacles

    Four feature films by German filmmakers screened at the Toronto Film Festival, and three of them were directed by women – Angela Schanelec’s “I Was at Home, But…,” winner of the Berlinale’s best director prize, Ina Weisse’s “The Audition,” and Katrin Gebbe’s “Pelican Blood,” the latter two both starring Nina Hoss. Germany’s Oscar entry this [...]

  • Bull

    Annie Silverstein's 'Bull' Takes Top Awards, Robert Pattinson Starrer 'The Lighthouse' Wins Jury Prize at Deauville

    Annie Silverstein’s feature debut “Bull” swept three awards at the 45th Deauville American Film Festival, including the Grand Prize, the Revelation Prize for best first film and the Critics’ Prize. “Bull,” a portrait of a rebellious teenage girl from South Texas, world premiered at Cannes’s Un Certain Regard and marks Silverstein’s follow up to her [...]

  • Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez star

    Jennifer Lopez's 'Criminal' Striptease: How 'Hustlers' Landed the Fiona Apple Hit

    Contrary to what you might be expecting, the number of songs by Jennifer Lopez, Lizzo and Cardi B in “Hustlers,” their newly released acting vehicle, adds up to … zero. Meanwhile, the standout music sync in a movie that’s full of them belongs to no less likely a choice than Fiona Apple. The scene in [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 8

    'Game of Thrones,' 'Avengers' Win Big at 45th Annual Saturn Awards

    As Jamie Lee Curtis picked up her first trophy ever at the 45th Annual Saturn Awards Friday night, she had a good luck charm on her arm: former manager Chuck Binder, whom she said was the reason she became an actor. “I was in college and had no thought of being an actor,” Curtis told [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu star

    Box Office: 'Hustlers' Dances Toward $32 Million Opening Weekend

    “Hustlers” is eyeing the biggest opening weekend ever for STXFilms, following a Friday domestic ticket haul of $13.1 million from 3,250 theaters. If estimates hold, the stripper saga could take home around $32 million come Sunday, marking the best live-action opening of Jennifer Lopez’s career. “Hustlers” follows a group of former strip club dancers, led [...]

  • Hustlers intimacy coordinator

    Meet the Stripper Consultant Who Gave 'Hustlers' Authenticity, Dignity and Sexual Freedom

    At last week’s Toronto Film Festival premiere of “Hustlers,” an audience of Hollywood heavyweights and Canadian locals applauded as a statuesque woman strutted on stage, rocking six-inch platform heels and a pastel tie-dye bodysuit. This adoration was not for stars Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu or Keke Palmer, nor was it for the film’s acclaimed writer-director [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content