2/25/13 Update: Eiko Ishioka did not win an Oscar last night, but at least she was nominated (in the Best Costume category). Sadly Ishioka died on 1/21/12 at age 73. She will be missed!
Tongue-in-check retelling of Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs with Lilly Collins as the beautiful ingenue & Julia Roberts as her evil stepmother. Rich found the costumes and the sets imaginative and colorful, but didn’t like anything else, whereas Jan found Snow White ebullient, full of clever touches, & lots of fun (with some light takeaway lessons about inner beauty versus outer beauty too).
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Snow White is the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale in which a beautiful queen, long accustomed to being “the fairest in the land,” has to deal with the fact that her teenage stepdaughter will one day replace her. Mirror Mirror is director Tarsem Singh’s delicious update, based on the very 21st Century sensibility of screenwriter Melisa Wallack. (The credits actually get a bit murky here. IMDb says that the screenplay was written by Jason Keller and Marc Klein, whereas credit for the “screen story” goes to Melisa Wallack.) Well, whatever. Somehow this team has made a perfect bittersweet confection, and I loved it.
When the story opens, Snow White is a prisoner in her own palace. Her father is long dead and the kingdom is completely controlled by the Queen (Snow White’s stepmother), who has looted the people and exploited all their resources for her own amusement. The Queen’s extravagant demands are bottomless, but because her mirror constantly reassures her that she is “the fairest in the land,” she truly believes she deserves not just everything but even a bit more.
The Queen is hosting a grand ball, and Snow White decides to attend uninvited. The Queen is furious and demands an explanation. “It’s my 18th birthday,” says Snow White in perfect innocence… and suddenly the Queen sees the future: Snow White is turning into a radiant young beauty, and she is turning into a deposed old hag. For the rest of the film, the Queen attempts to circumvent the inevitable. In the end, of course, she fails, and everyone in the kingdom lives happily ever after with Snow White as their new queen.
Singh turns this oft told tale into a visual delight with the help of a talented team behind-the-scenes. First among equals is costume designer Eiko Ishioka from Japan who already won one Oscar in 1993 (for Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula), and may well win another one come February 2013.
Lily Colllins is simply lovely as Snow White, and Armie Hammer finds just the right balance as “Prince Alcott” (aka “Prince Charming”). Hammer understands his role as the self-mocking masculine ideal, and he excels in every pratfall. All the dwarfs do their thing perfectly too, and so does Nathan Lane as”Brighton” (the Queen’s comic Go To Guy). Mare Winningham also has some nice bits in the background as “Baker Margaret;” we see just enough of her to know that Snow White has, in fact, had a benevolent female presence in what would otherwise have been a very cold lonely childhood.
However the star of the show–no ifs, ands, or buts–is Julia Roberts, and she is a hoot. She probably won’t receive the acclaim she should as the Queen, and that’s a real shame. She gives so much pleasure and makes it all look so easy, but I was frankly dazzled by her craft. The trick is to be the Queen on the surface, but also show how sad it is to be the Queen from the inside out. And watching her, I was laughing my head off, but always with a lump in my throat. Brava!
PERSONAL NOTE: Can you believe it??? Just in time for the 5th International SWAN Day on 5/31/12, here is Snow White in a Swan Costume!!! I just cannot resist this photo 🙂