I have a confession to make.
I had completely written off Mirror Mirror, Tarsem Singh’s latest, on the basis of its promotional material. It may have been presumptuous and altogether unfair but with trailers this mediocre, I had little-to-no hopes from this. However, news like this gave me pause and I walked into the film with cautious hope. And this is one case where I’m glad to have been proven wrong, for I really enjoyed Mirror Mirror.
It begins with a voiceover that wryly pokes fun at fairy tale clichés, narrating the story of the kingdom the film is set in over animated visuals that are – as is par for the course with Tarsem – extremely arresting. As we move into live-action, we are introduced to Lily Collins’ Snow White and her life of near-imprisonment as ordained by Julia Roberts’ Evil Queen. I doubt there’s anyone who’s unaware of the basic outline of this particular tale, so I’ll skip recapping the obvious: yes, there’s a Prince, seven dwarfs, a mirror and several other iconic things. The film does many things differently from the Disney animated classic, but this is more a case of alteration than reinvention. For the latter, I assume we’ll have to wait for Snow White and the Huntsman, another adaptation of the fairy tale out in theaters this summer.
This brings me to me next point: Much has been made of the fact that we are getting two adaptations of the same story in a span of few months. Questions have been raised over whether there is space at all for such similar products. After seeing Mirror Mirror, I can confidently say that yes, there’s more than enough space for both movies because they aren’t that similar anyway. Snow White and the Huntsman looks like an epic action adventure, in the vein of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s just aiming for a different audience. Mirror Mirror, on the other hand, with its amiable gags set in bright and colorful scenery is as stoutly a family film as there has been in recent times. And believe me, it works.
From the extravagant costumes (designer Eiko Ishioka’s last endeavor does her legacy justice) to the beautiful sets, Mirror Mirror (if nothing else) is a very good-looking film. The town square, in particular, is a great set. However, that it’s so obviously a set is indicative of one of the film’s most noticeable limitations: it looks like a stage production. Most of the film’s proceedings take place in sets. Even the mise-en-scène doesn’t resemble the fluid nature of a motion picture as much as it does the physically restrained formality of a play. This is particularly damaging to the action scenes, which are bland and boring. The scale of scenes also plays a part in furthering this observation. In one sequence, the prince sets out with a group of soldiers to hunt some dangerous bandits, and it’s almost laughable when you see that the “group” consists of just 3-4 soldiers. The number of people in the crowd at the town square never once exceeds 20. But in a strange way, the play-like nature of the film (except for the action, which is irrevocably bad) somehow adds to its charm. And the film has plenty of charm.
Mirror Mirror is also quite funny. Many, many jokes hit the mark, right from Julia Roberts’ dry asides in the opening voiceover to some predictable-but-effective slapstick bits in the climax. A few gags are painfully off-key though. For example, an extended sequence in which Armie Hammer’s Prince consumes a (puppy) love potion and starts behaving like a dog is just embarrassing in how flatly it falls and fails. But, that’s an aberration. If I found myself chuckling on at least a dozen occasions, I smiled on a lot more. When the film ended I had a huge grin on my face, courtesy an exuberant Bollywood-style song-and-dance number.
Lily Collins makes for a great Snow White. She is delicate in a regal manner and beautiful in an ethereal one. She’s very likable and easy to root for, giving the film a great pillar to lean on. Julia Roberts portrays an out-and-out negative character for the first time in her life, and it’s just palpable how much fun she’s having. She gets a few great jokes (such as her lustful infatuation with the Prince) and she knocks them all out of the park. Talking about the Prince, Armie Hammer is decent but he doesn’t really have much to work with. His character, despite being so strenuously beefed up from the classic, is still bland. The dwarves (played by actual dwarves) work very well. Jokes from them – and about them – got the loudest guffaws at my screening, even though some elements (like the stilts) aren’t as mind-blowing as the film seems to think they are.
Mirror Mirror has been the first genuine pleasant surprise of the year for me. It’s a delightful, whimsical and funny. It sent me out of the theatre smiling from ear-to-ear. Why shouldn’t it do the same for you?