Review: Mirror Mirror

The Thinker by Rodin

If you are not familiar with the Indian director Tarsem Singh, Mirror Mirror can be your introduction. The reason you may not be familiar with Tarsem Singh is because until the recently released Mirror Mirror starring Julia Roberts, his movies were written for Bollywood and Indian audiences. With Mirror Mirror, Singh is taking is directorial talents to Americans by lining up mainstream American actors like Julia Roberts.

As the title suggests, Mirror Mirror is a rewritten adaption of the Snow White story. The real story is so well known that even preschoolers would fall asleep if it were retold yet again on screen. So Tarsem (as he likes to be known) took the plot and changed it substantially, arguably making it both more interesting and engaging. The wicked queen (Julia Roberts) is just as wicked, but is at least civil to Snow White, who is on the cusp of turning eighteen. As long as she can be fairest in the land, she will suffer her to live, but maintaining her beauty is requiring a lot of magic. Snow White has also been rewritten. She (Lilly Collins, looking a lot like a young Natalie Wood) is still a princess, of course, but adversity will bring out a hitherto undiscovered side of her: an amateur Xena, once she gets trained in the art of fighting by seven dwarves.

These dwarves are not Disney stereotypes, and they survive by thieving instead of mining. They are pretty good at it, because they engage in a lot of practice, but also because they wear covered stilts that give them the illusion of being much taller than their opponents. It’s hard to know though how they eke out a living thieving given the slim pickings in this queendom. The wicked queen has overtaxed the villagers to support her lavish ways. So the dwarves depend on very unlikely encounters, like a wandering Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) and his companion Renbock (Robert Emms), who are quickly reduced to their underwear and left hanging from a tree. Moreover, it’s pretty cold out there because in order for the queen to maintain her beauty she must keep the kingdom in perpetual winter.

Snow White to the rescue! Rather than prince rescuing princess, princess rescues prince but they do manage to eventually fall in love. Much other action has to happen first. First Snow White has to be killed  but of course the queen’s servant Brighton (Nathan Lane) wimps out and leaves her deep in the woods rather than dead and missing her heart. It’s lucky that she quickly encounters seven dwarves, led by Grimm (Danny Woodburn), who take her in and quickly become enamored with her. The prince discovers the queen who decides she needs to marry him not for love but to restock her treasury. Unfortunately, she is much older than the prince, and only a love potion will do the trick.

That’s probably more than enough of the plot. Tarsem does a competent job orchestrating all of it, but Mirror Mirror is clearly not going to be the movie he will be remembered by. The dwarves are a lot of fun, Snow White has far more depth than we usually get, and the prince is atypically comic relief. As for Julia Roberts, she is stretching trying to make her role more interesting than it is, and it’s not interesting, hence her attempts fall mostly flat. Yet, you won’t fall asleep in the movie. It is interesting enough to keep you engaged, but not enrapt. The best part of the movie may well be the credits, wherein the Bollywood Tarsem comes out and the whole cast partakes in a spirited Bollywood musical dance sequence.

My recommendation: you can probably skip Mirror Mirror for worthier stuff, but if you decide to watch it you should find it fun enough and not a waste of your time. What is worthier stuff? Well, check out Tarsem’s best movie to date, one of the few I have rated 3.5 or above, the fabulous The Fall (2006). I’m hoping Tarsem’s Hollywood phase will be short, because this movie suggests his best works will created back at home in India instead of (in this case) a studio in Montreal, Quebec.

3.0 out of four points on my scale, primarily for fun performances by Lilly Collins and the actors playing the dwarves, who get to rise beyond the typical stereotypes. Otherwise, there’s not much worth seeing here, and that includes a brief part by Sean Bean as the absent king and Nathan Lane’s many attempts to make interesting his role as the queen’s bootlicker.

Rating: ★★★☆ 

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