Movie Review: “Mirror Mirror”

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The story of Snow White and her seven dwarfs is one of the most beloved fairy tales in existence and has been told and retold for years. In the newest adaptation, “Mirror Mirror,” (the first of two Snow White movies to be released this year, the second being “Snow White and the Huntsman”) director Tarsem Singh certainly doesn’t bring anything new to the fable, playing it safe when he should dip into the darkness, but he does bring his trademark visual flair that goes unmatched.

The story is pretty standard but there are a few small changes that succeed. For instance, Snow White isn’t as passive as she usually is. Instead of Prince Charming constantly saving her, White saves him a few times. The restorative true love kiss is even given by her this time around. But even with the changes, everyone knows how the story goes. Snow White (Lily Collins) lives under the oppressive rule of her cruel step-mother, the Queen (Julia Roberts), after the King (Sean Bean) goes missing. While the Queen clearly hates White, it isn’t until White interferes with her plans to marry a young Prince (Armie Hammer) that really gets to the Queen. Threatened by White’s beauty and innate goodness, the Queen sends her lackey (Nathan Lane) to take White to the woods to cut her heart out. Of course, White is released and finds herself in the home of seven bandits who teach her to defend herself and help her knock the Queen from the throne.

Tarsem Singh is the perfect person to take such a legendary classic to turn into a contemporary film. With his amazing attention to architectural detail, giving us gorgeous visuals, and the exemplary casting of Julia Roberts as the evil Queen, Tarsem lends a much needed kinetic energy to the story of Snow White. While Tarsem is responsible for much of the beautiful visuals, integral to the film is Eiko Ishioka, who was responsible for the stunning costumes. She helped shape the characters through their dress and gave the film romantic joviality and strength when needed. Unfortunately, Ishioka passed away in January, making “Mirror Mirror” the last film the notorious designer will work on.

There are some aspects that are highly successful, besides the visuals, and casting is definitely the main one. Everyone loves the seven dwarfs and “Mirror Mirror” will only cement that love. The dwarfs aren’t Disney’s dwarfs; they’re instead restored to the band of ruffians that they were always meant to be. Instead of singing in diamond mines, these dwarfs are thieving bandits who wear accordion-like contraptions on their feet to appear as giants. While all seven men are great,  Jordan Prentice (“In Bruges”) as the self-assured Napoleon and Mark Povinelli (“Water for Elephants”) as the love-sick Half Pint stand out the strongest. However, the entire team of bandits (including Joe Gnoffo, Danny Woodburn, Sebastian Saraceno, Martin Klebba, and Ronald Lee Clark) are a pleasure to watch and are the only characters that hold true love for one another and as a result, they are the only characters the audience will actually care for.

Also worth mentioning is Armie Hammer (“Social Network”) as Prince Alcott. Hammer, who has done a lot of dramatic work previously, effortlessly delivers a self-effacing comedic performance. Almost a real-life Prince Charming himself, Hammer has no problem looking silly and the proof is in how comfortable he looks while under a puppy love spell, licking the Queen’s face and squirming with excitement at the possibility of playing fetch.

Lily Collins as Snow White is every bit as sweet as she needs to be and while she’s also given a feminine strength that is often missing in fairy tales, she is still too saccharine to hold up to the rest of the cast. She floats around the film, interacting with the other characters but never really gains solid footing. The striking resemblance to Audrey Hepburn will stand out more than Collins’ performance and it’s not necessarily her fault. It’s impossible for anyone in the film to outshine Julia Roberts as the Queen, who is the clear star of the film. It was absolutely brilliant to cast the beautiful mega-star as the narcissistic lunatic that is the Queen. Roberts steals every single scene she is in with her tongue-in-cheek quips and unstable fear of becoming irrelevant in the face of White’s youth.

Tarsem, the man behind the brilliant “The Fall,” is a fantastic filmmaker but in watching “Mirror Mirror,” you wish he hadn’t played it so safe. The film struggles to straddle the line between fanciful fantasy and the much darker distortion that lurks within the duplicitous mirror of the evil Queen, ultimately relying too heavily on the whimsical. With so much perversion underlying the fairy tale of Snow White, it’s hard not to wish that Tarsem had dipped into the inherent darkness to give “Mirror Mirror” a more sardonic twist to go along with his gorgeous, one of a kind, imagery.

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