Movie Review - Mirror Mirror

Armie Hammer sweeps Lily Collins
off her feet in "Mirror Mirror"
After directing The Cell (2000) and The Fall (2006), Tarsem Singh has proven that he can bring beautiful and amazingly creative visuals to the big screen. Tarsem works from a bright, rich and colorful palette and he usually delivers a sumptuous feast for the eyes, not just through cinematography but production design as well. With Mirror Mirror, Tarsem delivers yet again.

It's a comedic take on the Brothers Grimm story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. It's spiritually and even superficially similar to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. Both are about a girl who encounters an assortment of crazy characters, while trying to avoid getting killed by an evil queen. Tarsem isn't as dark or as leaning toward action as Burton. Tarsem's sense of humor here is also broader and more slapstick.

Where Tarsem falls down is with his main character. Mirror Mirror stars Julia Roberts as the evil queen. During the opening scene, we're led to believe that she might be the protagonist, the one for whom we root in spite of her villainy in a move parallel to Megamind (2010). Yet, it becomes clear the film wants to root for Lily Collins who plays Snow White. This is fine, but it makes the narrative predictable if not boring.

If you go into it expecting a run-of-the-mill interpretation of the Snow White story, you'll get your basic money's worth, plus the slight bonus of Tarsem's visuals. If you go into it expecting a modern or even more subversive interpretation of Snow White, as with the ABC series Once Upon a Time, you will be disappointed.

Sadly, Tarsem's opening provides the potential of a funnier and perhaps subversive interpretation, but he abandons it. The opening is a dazzling animation that tells Snow White's origin tale but from the perspective of the evil queen making herself the victim and heroine. Like with Megamind, this laid the groundwork for the evil queen to become the character with whom we identify and for whom in the end we maybe sympathize, thus making Snow White the villain or antagonist, but Tarsem doesn't go there. Nevertheless, that animation, which lasted only a couple of minutes and featured what look like porcelain dolls in motion, was better than any animated film in all of 2011.

But, after the animation is over, the movie shifts to Snow White and playing out her story predictably. Again, this would have been fine, except Lily Collins is not as interesting an anchor as you would want. I'm not sure it's because she wasn't as great an actress as was needed or if it might be a writing problem. Aside from a montage where she trains to be a thief and a sword fight with a prince, she's not given much to do.

She comes in the wake of several, strong, young, female characters in movies like Hanna (2011) and more recently The Hunger Games. This movie makes a point of calling out that Snow White wants to be a girl that stands up for herself, fights and ultimately saves the day. The problem is that the movie keeps letting her get upstaged and not really letting her do anything. This might sound weird, but this movie could have done without her for the most part and not lost much.

Collins is upstaged by everyone. All of the other actors around her are vastly more fascinating. The actors who play the dwarfs actually make her seem like the dwarf. All of them are charming, distinctive, funny and manage to stand out and stand tall in their scenes, even when their characters aren't on stilts. I'd recommend seeing the movie, if for no other reason than to see the seven of them.

Second in my mind as to whom this movie belongs is Armie Hammer (The Social Network and J. Edgar). Hammer plays the Handsome Prince, the Prince of Valencia, Prince Alcott. As written, Hammer has to swing between being a suave swashbuckler and playing a buffoon to this film's various physical jokes. Hammer is tall, "built like an ox," has a decent amount of chest hair and a smile that sparkles. Yet, he makes a total fool of himself over and over. Whether it's shirtless and pants-less confusion or puppy love, he handles it all well. I'd also recommend seeing the movie, if for no other reason than to see him at work.

With Tarsem's heritage from India, it's non-surprising that he ends the film with a Bollywood-like musical number. I wish he would have integrated more musical numbers into the movie.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for fantasy action and mild humor.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 46 mins.


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