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Movie Review: Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, Mirror is fair but flawed.

Mirror, Mirror is the first and lighter of two movies based on the tale of Snow White to be released this year. It's a charming, sweet, albeit flawed little confection, worth seeing if you love inventive production and costume design, but especially if you have a soft spot for the work of director Tarsem Singh, who supplies some moments of visual brilliance his fans have come to love.

When a movie lover walks into a film helmed by Singh, they might have certain expectations. This artistic, controversial director is known for visually stunning yet incomprehensible movies like The Fall, The Cell, and most recently, The Immortals. He became famous with the music videos "Hold On" by En Vogue, and "Losing My Religion" for REM, which won Best Video of the Year at the 1991 MTV Awards.

Mirror, Mirror has a cast lead by A-lister Julia Roberts and IT boy Armie Hammer (of The Social Network, J Edgar, and the upcoming The Lone Ranger) and exhibits Singh's unique sensibility, complete with fantastical visual landscapes, with help from his production designer Tom Foden, and Kabuki-esque costuming from longtime collaborator Eiko Ishioka, who passed away in January. His enthusiastic devotees maintain Singh can and will ultimately build a career represented by well-reviewed blockbusters that weave together his trademark visual palette with storytelling that holds together. They are rooting for him to find a vehicle that will make that happen. With Mirror, Mirror, the first film directed by him appropriate for kids, he does get pretty close.

There was much brouhaha about the previews, which displeased Singh and got lots of press. I now see why. I was driven into the theatre by mix of responsibility for my readers and a strong curiosity about what Singh would do with such a mainstream studio film. The previews made it look like a silly retread most moviegoers would give a pass. Actually, although it isn't nearly as funny as I thought it might be, and certainly very goofy in spots, the dialogue is clever, and should appeal to both children and adults with its mix of broad humor and more subtle adult dialogue, which will fly over kids' heads.

While the story is the expected girl power "I rescue myself, thank you" switch up, the characters played by Lilly Collins (Snow White), Armie Hammer (Prince Alcott), and a host of LP (little people) actors (as the seven dwarfs) are more fully developed than in the usual fairy tale fare.

Julia Roberts stars as the Evil Queen. I found her underwhelming, with less bite than I would have liked for someone keeping Snow White and a whole spellbound kingdom under her thumb. Perhaps it was so as not to scare younger viewers, but I found her character and its portrayal far less menacing than, say, Mother Gothel in the Disney cartoon Tangled. She seemed to back away from playing the murderous menace the Queen was supposed to be. I also found the inconsistent English accent Roberts used distracting. Since she's done well with accents before, I have to wonder what acting choice lead her to slip in and out of it so often.

As the villain of the film, she's serviceable, but she doesn't create a lasting impression that will put this role anywhere near her best work. Her costumes, however, are the stuff of dreams. Her gowns are to die for, which may explain why her subjects are starving, as we are told that's where all their tax money is going. Well, Queen, at least it shows in your clothes!

Lilly Collins and Armie Hammer are the real stars here. She charms, he amuses, and together they are a believably smitten duo. Their interactions with the other characters in the film, however, are where they both shine the most.

As you can imagine, if being a person of color means fighting the five great actors getting all the roles, being a little person actor in Hollywood means you must be the very best—and they have indeed brought together the best here, including Mark Povinelli as Half Pint (who has a burning crush on Snow White) Danny Woodburn as Grimm (sort of the Grumpy of his pals) and Jordan Prentice as Napoleon (the leader of the group). They are all memorable actors, each with impressive lists of other movie and TV show credits, and are thoroughly enjoyable here.

The film, clocking in at 1 hour and 35 minutes, moves along swiftly enough, always marked by Singh's unique brand of wild inventiveness, but with varying degrees of success. Some action involving supposedly dangerous life sized puppets juxtaposed with comedic music seems forced and blunted, while the most engaging moments are those with Snow White training and fighting with swords, or scenes with the fantastical environments Singh and his crew create, like the castle and dwarf cottage interiors or the Queen's magical alternate world.

Dark and creepy fairy tales are very in vogue, with Grimm and Once Upon a Time on TV, and the oft compared upcoming Snow White and the Huntsman all bringing the gruesome cautionary aspects of these stories back to the forefront. It's nice to see an alternative version of Snow White that is still watchable and optimistic and won't give little kids nightmares. Sometimes fairy tales can use a little froth. Snow might be a determined young lady on a mission, and may know how to handle a sword, but her gown and crown still take your breath away.

Speaking of costumes, Bjork called. She wants respect back for the time she wore that swan-inspired fashion at the Oscars… It was definitely inspiration for one of Snow's outfits. It's also clear Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday was an inspiration for Lilly Collins's styling in general, although her imposing eyebrows are reminiscent of a younger Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. The metrosexual man inside me wants to mention the gorgeous long coat Armie Hammer wears and whips off during a sword fight. Why don't American men have access to great pieces like this for their wardrobe? (Oh, yeah, 'cause they wouldn't buy them. But I would!)

I urge movie fans looking for family fun at the multiplex for kids 7 and up to consider Mirror, Mirror as a possibility. Is it something you adult couples or pals looking for a great night of hanging out should run to with a passion at your earliest convenience? No. But for families who look for movies that inspire a child's imagination and eye for visual creativity while at the same time giving them something more sophisticated to enjoy, this could be just the ticket. Adult women who love fairy tales and pretty things will also find bits to appreciate here, as will movie lovers curious to see a more mainstream expression of Singh's filmmaking style.

Walking out of the movie, I broke into a discussion about the tiara in Mirror, Mirror with an 8-year-old girl. She didn't bring up the message of girl power or independent thinking, although it might be sinking into her brain somewhere. I figure with all the negatives in this world, there's nothing wrong with appreciating some of the more beautiful, sparkling things. I'm glad Tarsem Singh is the one given a chance to show them to her.

Leslie Combemale March 31, 2012 at 01:47 AM
i loved finding out about the career of the costume designer in my research. She did the work on M Butterfly and chose her projects very carefully. She'll be missed, but this movie (flawed though it may be) is a great last hurrah as far as the GORGEOUS costumes are concerned. My favorites were Snow's dress early in the movie and the prince's coat. I REALLY want that!!
Leslie Combemale March 31, 2012 at 01:47 AM
Leslie P: are you going? i know you love costumes!!

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