Julia Roberts is a ham in 'Mirror Mirror'

Posted: March 30, 2012

If you're going to serve up an old fairy tale, you may as well make it look dazzling. And Tarsem Singh, the director of Mirror Mirror, has certainly done that. From its "once upon a time" animated intro to its swooping views of a golden-domed castle perched atop a precipice, to the bellows-like stilts worn by a certain septet of little people in this new take on the old Snow White yarn, everything looks, well, fantastic.

The costumes, designed by the late, great Eiko Ishioka, add splendor and artistry to what, in the end, is a not terribly inventive or surprising variation on the oft-told story collected by those brothers Grimm: An aging and vainglorious queen takes a look at the pale-skinned young princess in her care and decides to have her offed, lest she be deemed the most beautiful, desirable creature in the land.

Hamming it up richly, and for the most part snappily, as the nasty Queen is Julia Roberts, poking fun at the institutional narcissism and ageism that drives the business she's in. The Queen gazes worriedly into her magic mirror (a kind of watery pool, kept in a Japanese-like thatched hut afloat on a lake), takes note of the lines on her face, and huffs weakly, "They're not wrinkles, they're crinkles."

Attended to by a busy buffoon (Nathan Lane) and despised by her people, Roberts' malevolent monarch passes her days slipping into and out of elaborate gowns and ordering new taxes on the villagers to pay for her fetes. And when a handsome prince shows up (Armie Hammer, fresh from playing Leonardo DiCaprio's handsome prince in J. Edgar), a fete she must have - to woo this hunky noble and wrestle him into wedlock.

Only problem, of course, is that Prince Alcott has already taken a shine to Snow (Lily Collins), which is all the more reason the Queen tells her goofy gofer, "I want her killed."

So Snow is sent off into the woods, where she is not killed, but finds herself shacking up with seven dwarfs - men who make a living robbing the rich, and men now smitten (smote?) by the raven-haired young woman who shares their home. Their names are Napoleon, Half Pint, Grub, Grim, Wolf, Butcher, and Chuckles, and while they teach Snow how to defend herself with sword and stick, she teaches them how to have compassion for their fellow man and to return the money that they've robbed to those to whom it rightfully belongs. (The starving townsfolk.)

If Mirror Mirror seems mostly to be Roberts' show, it is. Collins has a nice Audrey Hepburn air (and hair) about her, but little of Hepburn's allure. And Hammer, playing a somewhat clownish royal, has to actually behave like an excited pup - panting, yelping, and licking - when he climbs into bed with the Queen. This is because the concoction she has slipped into his wine was not a simple love potion but a "puppy love potion." Funny.

Singh, whose eye-popping tribute to the Silent Era, The Fall, was several years ahead of The Artist/Hugo curve, never lets his attention waver from the production design - those beautiful, snowy, birch tree forests; the parapets; cliffs; and opulent palace digs. He lets his stars deliver their lines - some with more flourish and wit than others (among the dwarfs, Jordan Prentice and Danny Woodburn get off the best) - but his eye is mostly on the gilt and the silk, the CG-ed skies, and the eerie, iced-over lake that separates the castle from the town.

It's another story of the one percenters and the 99, but it's a fairy tale, after all, so at least the greedheads get comeuppance.

Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.

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