A film review by Craig J. Koban April 3, 2012


2012, PG, 106 mins.


The Queen: Julia Roberts / Snow White: Lily Collins / Prince Alcott: Armie Hammer / Brighton: Nathan Lane / Napoleon: Jordan Prentice / Half Pint: Mark Povinelli / Grub: Joe Gnoffo / Grimm: Danny Woodburn / Wolf: Sebastian Saraceno / Butcher: Martin Klebba / Chuckles: Ronald Lee Clark / Charles Renbock: Robert Emms / Baker Margaret: Mare Winningham / Baron: Michael Lerner / King: Sean Bean

Directed by Tarsem / Screenplay by Marc Klein and Jason Keller, based on stories by the Brothers Grimm.

MIRROR, MIRROR is a retooling, re-invention...whatever...of the 18th Century Brothers Grimm created Snow White fairy tale that is so positively wrongheaded and fundamentally unnecessary that I grow dizzy just thinking about it.  

Just how wrongheaded and unnecessary, you may ask?  Just consider one scene that has the evil Queen (Julia Roberts) that engages in a spa-styled beauty makeover.  She has her lips puckered by having live bees sting them, gets a truly unnerving manicure by having slimy wormlike creatures placed on her hands, and then she gets a facial made of…ahem…parrot shit (we even get a nice close-up of the birds excreting the fecal matter that is later condescend into something that no woman would ever find on any Clinique counter at a department store). 

Watching a sequence like this – and many other – in MIRROR, MIRROR I found myself straining to think of any sensible reason for this film – the seemingly umpteenth version of the Snow White legend – to exist.  The only real way, I think, to take and remake a concept that past and modern audiences are so abundantly familiar with is to drastically alter it.  Otherwise, why would there be a need for a reinvention to exist in the first place?  Yet, the problem with Snow White and her story is that it has been done time and time again in so many different mediums that there’s not anything fresh or revitalizing that can be injected into it…unless, of course, you have its iconic villainess get avian doo-doo smeared on her cheeks. 

Well…here’s what we still get with this 21st Century reworked iteration: an evil queen; a beautiful heroine that opposes her; a debonair and dashing prince; a magical mirror that serves as a guidance counselor of sorts to the villain; a poisonous apple; and…oh…seven dwarves, but this time they are not lovable miners, but loveable thieves.   Also, the dwarves go by much different names this go around: there’s Napoleon (Jordan Prentice), Half Pint (Mark Povinelli), Grum (Joe Gnoffo), Grimm (Danny Woodburn), Wolf (Sebastian Saraceno), Butcher (Martin Klebba) and Chuckles (Ronald Lee Clark) that come in contact with the fair and luminous princess Snow White (Lily Collins, a porcelain skinned beauty who is apparently a genetic clone of Audrey Hepburn) after she escaped the clutches of the wicked Queen (Roberts) and is exiled in the dark and ominous forest.  

While there she is befriended and given food and shelter by the amiable dwarves, and she eventually finds herself as their de facto leader after they train her to handle a sword and herself in general.  Meanwhile, the two-faced Queen has been going through financial difficulties (was her castle purchased with a lousy subprime mortgage loan?) and is nearly broke, but she hatches a sneaky plan to woe and marry an exceedingly affluent and handsome young prince, Alcott (Armie Hammer) that has eyes for just Miss White.  The Queen realizes that she has an uphill battle in order to convince Alcott to join her in marriage, so she desperately decides to use a…shall we say…love potion to snare her prey. 



Without question, MIRROR, MIRROR is an absolute masterful triumph on a costume and production design level.  The late, great Eiko Ishioka’s work here (an early frontrunner for Oscar consideration) is an extravagant feast for the eyes: every outfit – no matter how outlandishly realized, exuberantly colorful, and joyously innovative – hugs the individual performers to the point where they become living, breathing, and walking works of art.  Just look at the design of the dwarves, for example, whose outfits can suddenly make them ten feet tall via the help of accordion-like stilts placed in their pants, or the animal-centric headwear of all of the guests during an early costume ball scene.  Then there's Tom Foden’s magnificent art direction and production design, which in tandem with Ishioka's work makes MIRROR, MIRROR endlessly engaging as a visual experience. 

However, MIRROR, MIRROR essentially emerges through its sluggish and frankly snore-inducing 106 minutes as a superficial costume gala in desperate search for a narrative.  The film becomes absolutely asphyxiated by the sheer weight of its artifice, to the point where no semblance of dramatic or even comic substance can rise to the surface to breathe.  The film has an unhealthy and scattershot marriage of laughs and sentiment and, more often than not, it becomes something even more intolerable: an arrogant PRINCESS BRIDE-esque send-up of the Snow White fable that seems far too self-congratulatory with unleashing verbal zingers and would-be satirical jabs at fairy tale conventions themselves.  That, and MIRROR, MIRROR thinks it's more subversively funny than it actually is, and by the time the credits role by you are left with no impression as to whether it was supposed to be a spoof, a satire, a faithful retelling of the Snow White fable with noticeable tweaks, or a dizzying combination of all of those elements. 

The performers are a disagreeably mixed bag as well.  The dwarf actors are reliably – if not a bit predictably – spunky, sly, and mischievous.  Lily Collins (daughter of Phil) may be a limitlessly inviting screen presence with a thousand watt smile, but she registers as bland and flat in what should be one of the more crucial roles (after seeing THE HUNGER GAMES, this film’s attempts at making Snow White a feminist empowered dynamo are feebly strained at best).  Julia Roberts is also all kinds of wrongly cast as the malicious Queen, mostly because she’s never really a dastardly intimidating presence in the film that’s fun to hate (Roberts' very rosy and approachable image as an actress is counter-productive here). 

Only Armie Hammer manages to make an impression, as he nearly hijacks the film away from the other stars.  Just as he did in THE SOCIAL NETWORK and to even better effect in J. EDGAR, Hammer is a competent, fly-in-under-the-radar performer.  He can bridge the gap between drama and comedy and in MIRROR, MIRROR he brings a Gary Grant-ian level of goofy charisma to the most preposterous of moments.  Whether being continuously shirtless or behaving like a love-sick canine licking Roberts’ mug, you kind of have to admire Hammer’s willingness to both lampoon his own image as a movie hunk and commit himself fully to making an ass of himself. 

Perhaps the biggest and most shocking revelation of MIRROR, MIRROR is that it was directed by Tarsem Singh (sometimes going by the moniker "Tarsem"), who made for my money one of the greatest looking films of the last decade in THE FALL (a vastly better film with fairy tale trappings) and has made a stellar career as one of the cinema’s pre-eminent visual storytellers.  Yet, his unorthodox aesthetical eccentricities and swaggering flare have gone missing in MIRROR, MIRROR as he becomes a slave to the film’s annoyingly jokey and juvenile tone and its parade of eye-gasmic costumes and sets; he just seems to be dutifully phoning in these egregious elements.  A treatment of the ageless story of Snow White certainly deserves Tarsem’s unique skill set, but MIRROR, MIRROR betrays them entirely.  It’s a wondrously good-looking, but a stiff, lifeless, banal, and frankly disinteresting appropriation of Grimm’s original creation.  

MIRROR, MIRROR is artful, but it mournfully lacks fairy tale magic.

  H O M E