Movie Review: Mirror Mirror
The Charlotte Observer
You know the old joke: You ask your friends about your blind date, and they gush about sense of humor and personality. Yow, you think: This unknown person must look like a tubercular mule.
Tarsem Singh Dhandwar's movies go in exactly the opposite direction: They’re lavishly and imaginatively designed, quite breathtakingly handsome. But narrative coherence goes out the window midway through, and he throws every element that intrigues him – comic, serious, fantastical and absurd – into the stew. Intelligence? Personality? Well, not really. But they sure are pretty!
"Mirror Mirror" fits the pattern. It's hampered further by a piece of star miscasting unmatched in recent memory: Julia Roberts' archly evil queen remains as jaw-droppingly dull as her costumes are jaw-droppingly gaudy. Watching her, we can only wonder what Glenn Close or Meryl Streep might have done in this role 15 years ago. But you can hardly blame Roberts for not understanding what movie she's supposed to be in, especially when her character is too generic even to have a name.
Sometimes "Mirror Mirror" is a traditional tale about a queen who has married and buried four kings and seeks a rich prince to pay her debts. Sometimes it's a teenage female empowerment movie about Snow White (Lily Collins), who's left to die in the icy woods and determines to take back her kingdom.
Sometimes it's a love story between Snow and a kind of blond, beach-boy prince (Armie Hammer) with a flat American accent. Sometimes it's a "can't-we-all-get-along" story about valuing dwarves as much as anybody else. Sometimes it's a broad comedy: The queen accidentally gives the prince a love potion for dogs, and he starts licking her face and whimpering.
None of this goes anywhere interesting. Nathan Lane plays Brighton, the queen's trembling toady. When he betrays her, her magic mirror turns him into a cockroach. Eventually, he turns human again and goes about his business. Nothing comes of it but a joke about being raped by a grasshopper.
The movie does have virtues: Collins makes a sweet if low-key Snow, and the seven dwarf actors have vivacious, varied personalities. But even here, the movie falls apart: They're resourceful inventors and skilled bandits who are too stupid to realize they have a key that will let them escape from their own locked house.
As mentioned, the sets and costumes produce gasps. The director was born in India – hence the semi-Bollywood musical number over the end credits – and the intense colors and opulent designs of his native culture enrich all his films. Even working mostly with a palette of off-whites, as he does here, he dazzles us.
But though his eye finds gold, his ear is tin. He apparently couldn't hear Roberts dropping her fake-British accent at times and delivering her lines as flatly as a high school girl doing a first read-through of "Annie." From her lips, irony becomes smugness, and would-be menace turns into mere bad manners.
She and the filmmakers even bungle the poisoned-fruit scene, which comes as an anticlimax. The poster shows her offering the treat with the words "one bad apple" written across it. Alas, they turn out to refer to the queen herself. And by the time she finally hands the accursed thing to Snow White, the movie's already spoiled.