Dir. Tarsem Singh Dhandwar
(2012, PG, 106 minutes)
Mirror Mirror is the fourth film by Tarsem Singh, following two I consider greatly underrated – The Cell and The Fall, the latter of which made my list of the best films of the last decade – and one I didn’t see: Immortals. Formerly a director of music videos, he’s a remarkable visual artist, whose compositions and use of physical space, costume design, and production design make his films worth seeing for their style alone.
But The Cell and especially The Fall are also great films overall. Mirror Mirror isn’t. The screenplay by Marc Klein and Jason Keller – Melisa Wallack gets story credit – is disappointing. Though its modern colloquial language is a nice contrast to the story’s otherworldly grandeur, it isn’t witty enough. Much of the dialogue is bland and unimaginative, moving the story along in a workmanlike way. In one of the better scenes the prince’s aide warns him to beware the Queen, and their speech is so informal they sound more like frat brothers than royals: says the aide, “There’s ‘I’m in the same room as a prince’ crazy, and then there’s good old fashioned plain traditional psycho crazy. I fear she’s the latter.” More of that kind of absurdity would have been welcome.
The lead performances are also somewhat lacking in energy. Lily Collins has the right radiant glow as Snow White, but limited emotional presence. Julia Roberts as the Queen drifts into an out of an English accent, as if neither the actress nor director could decide if the character should be an aristocratic tyrant or bratty mean-girl. She seems to be enjoying herself in the role, but isn’t quite broad enough to be suitably campy. Armie Hammer as the prince and Nathan Lane as the Queen’s lackey fare better, gamely giving themselves over to the inherent silliness. The seven actors playing Snow White’s merry band of bandit dwarfs are also generally charming.
But the real stars of the film are the costumes by the late, great Eiko Ishioka. She died in January 2012 at age 73 after having dressed all of Singh’s films in her singular extravagant style. Taking advantage of the bright fairy-tale milieu, she creates overflowing pieces, some fancifully elegant like Snow White’s gowns, and others sublimely ridiculous, like the multicolored attendees of a royal wedding. The Queen’s costumes alone are a singular achievement, so ornate and voluminous she makes other movie royals look downright homely. In Ishioka’s wardrobe the actors are like walking art installations; it was worth making the film just to give her an excuse for these designs.
This film is surely the apex of her work with Singh, though the film as a whole isn’t equal to that achievement.