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Mirror Mirror

Mirror Mirror

Get thee to a nunnery, then set fire to the nunnery, please

dir: Tarsem Singh

If The Dictator inspired profound feelings of ‘meh’ in me, this film left me with the profound feeling of ‘yeurgh’.

Sometimes you get exactly the crap you expect you’re going to get, as with eating at KFC, or the “Dirty Bird”, as a good friend of mine calls it, when you already have plenty of experience backing up your expectations. When you buy dirty bird, you expect dirty bird, and dirty bird is what you get.

That’s not entirely true, gentle reader. I’m telling one of those things I’m told humans call a “lie”. Yes, a little white lie. In truth, even when I have the dirty bird in my grubby little hands, the grease running down my fingers, eventually to be coursing through my veins, I still expect it to be great. No matter how many times I’ve been betrayed, I still think “Maybe this time, it’ll be different.”

I did have completely unrealistic expectations regarding this film, and, as per usual, I have no idea why. And again as per usual, it hardly matters to the film makers or the rest of the world, because what I want doesn’t knock the world’s axis out of joint or pull the sun from the sky.

Nothing from the advertising for it, or the reviews, or the presence of Julia Roberts should have made me think I was getting anything other than dirty bird.

But still, but still… the human capacity for self-delusional is almost infinite, and I’m one of its most skilled practitioners.

I thought (again, I don’t know why I had this impression) there was going to be something radically new in the retelling of the story of Snow White. I don’t have any particular fixation on these fairy tales, although I have been reading a lot of them over the last five years to my daughter, and as such they play an important role in teaching her about what people used to think the status of women used to be in society: as subhumans with little of value other than beauty and, more importantly, their virginity intact so they could be traded to other families for money, property or cows.

Pretty much exactly where we are these days, except with worse shoes.

It’s a story that’s been told so often, and to great effect, I guess, that it’s more than a widely-known fairy tale, it’s an iconic story. Obviously, having been exposed to it this often, and having seen so many goddamn versions of it, I’m interested in (or desperate for) alternatives, reinterpretations, distortions, eviscerations that tell the same stories in radically different ways.

If you want a better idea where I’m coming from, one of my favourite and most worn t-shirts is called Red, is red in colour, and in the lower left-hand corner has an image of someone very Red Riding Hood-like holding a blood-spattered chainsaw. My daughter loves that t-shirt, as do I.

In other words, I’m not as interested in just another telling of the same goddamn stories the same way ad infinitum.

Mirror Mirror is the same goddamn story as always, through and through. It is not told to any greater extent from the evil queen’s perspective than any of the other versions. Of course she’s as evil as the step-mothers are in all these stories, but I thought, for some reason, that they were going to do something new with it. Something different. Something less likely to provide snores than guffaws.

Somehow I’d gotten the impression that in this story, the ‘evil’ queen would be revealed to be in actuality quite a nice and supportive step-mother, and that the real villain would be Snow White, as some bratty, narcissistic monster who makes her step-mother’s life hell.

That could have been interesting(?) Maybe not to you, with your palate jaded from decades of hardcore pornography and graphic violence, and competitive cooking shows, but it might have done more for me. As it stands, it did not. Very much not.

Mirror Mirror is a visually stunning film. If people weren’t talking in this film, especially if Julia Roberts wasn’t talking in this film, it would already be one of the most gorgeously, sumptuously rendered filmic confections of the year. I care nothing for costumes, décor, art or set design or any of things usually, and nor am I about to start to, but if I did, watching this would be the equivalent of my eyes having an orgasm.

But then Julia has to talk, and Snow White has to simper in that simpering voice of hers, and then the story has to go along pretty much the way anyone on the planet would predict, and I’m left cursing under my breath.

The director Tarsem Singh, or “Tarsem”, as he’s usually credited, is a visual stylist par excellence. He hasn’t yet, however, made a film with a credible plot, or with humans generally doing stuff in a way that indicates his needs wouldn’t be better served by the employment of marionettes. Humans never look like they belong in his films, and so to say that Julia Roberts shouldn’t be here is redundant.

Armie Hammer, or the Winklevoss Twins, as I like to think of him as, does okay as the prince of the story, does as well as any human could hope to within something they know they have no place in. And there’s a bunch of dwarves who are “badass” little people, who take Snow in when the inevitable happens, and CGI versions of them on stilts get to have fun slapping around taller people, but none of it endeared the flick to me.

I hated it, really, and I didn’t want to hate it. I wanted to like it beyond just what it was doing to my retinas. Alas, that was never going to happen, I don’t think. Dirty Bird doesn’t magically transform into Peking Duck just because you want it to, or because you put it on a pretty enough plate.

Roberts is just painful in this. Seeing her mug her way through line after line was just painful, and while I assume she’s the villain in most flicks she’s in, she doesn’t make a compelling or enjoyable villain here.

Lily Collins as Snow White is pretty boring as well, I mean that’s almost unavoidable with such a fundamentally boring character, but she’s not able to do anything any better with it. Those frightening eyebrows didn’t help matters much either.

It’s not enough to just claim that you’re making the damsel in distress / useless princess of these usual stories into someone who somehow gets ‘empowered’ through a montage into becoming a character worth caring about. Are we that, what’s the word I’m looking for, complacent? Intellectually lazy, whatever?

I’m not averse to these stories. I’m not. Honestly. I can think of other versions similar to this that I’ve liked, and Mirror Mirror doesn’t come close to them, not by a long shot. Hell, I enjoyed Ella Enchanted and Ever After and such, and even adored Tangled from the year before, and that’s about as ‘traditional’ as it gets with at least the semblance of substance thrown in. I’m a sucker for these things when they’re done even reasonably well, whether conventional or not, or out-there or not.

It begins and ends in the exact places anyone would expect, but then no-one, least of all me should have imagined anything different, or anything more entertaining. And I have to admit that as pointless as things were throughout, even I was surprised by how cringeworthy I found the so-called ‘Bollywood’ dance number at the end. Way to make something painful fucking unendurable, chaps and chapettes, good goddamn work.

Avoid, unless you want to take someone you don’t like to the cinema. That’ll learn ‘em.

5 ways in which Julia confused acting like a diva and being a villain out of 10

“It's important to know when you've been beaten, yes?” – yep indeed, I know when I’m done – Mirror Mirror