Movie Review – Mirror, Mirror

On a recent 4-hour flight I found myself bored with my books, tired of my iPhone games, and unwilling to watch Game of Thrones on my small screen that I decided to watch “Mirror, Mirror” to pass the time. It was one of the large movie mistakes that I’ve made in a long time.

“Mirror, Mirror” is a 2012 comedic fairy tale film “based” off the Brothers Grimm classic “Snow White”. It stars Julia Roberts as The Queen, Lily Collins as Snow White, Armie Hammer (seriously?!) as the Prince, Nathan Lane as an irrelevant servant, and Sean Bean reprising his trademark role of King as, well, “King”. You can tell from this exciting line-up that we’re headed into what will be an amazing movie.

Early reviewers or the press, not sure who exactly, was touting this movie as a “modern version of the classic ‘Princess Bride’ story.” I’m not sure how much they were paid to claim this association but drawing parallels between “Princess Bride” and “Mirror, Mirror” is like saying Chef Boyardee is equivalent to a generationally passed down Italian recipe. One has all the right ingredients to make something appealing, classic, and soul-filling .The other is clearly calories intended to get through a hectic day an onto something more important than enjoying what you’re consuming. This movie filled me up even less than that and left me ill afterwards.

Fairy Tales have experienced a cultural renaissance lately, probably a result of the Twilight phenomenon, in books, television, movies and comics. This is demonstrated by the fact that there were TWO Snow White movies released within 2.5 months of each other (“Snow White and the Huntsman” is the other one). I have not seen “Huntsman” so I will be unable to draw any direct comparison there but there are enough other options to contrast here.

Here is the official synopsis:
One of the most beloved stories of all time is coming to life in the motion picture event for the whole family, Mirror Mirror. A fresh and funny retelling of the Snow White legend, Mirror Mirror features breakout star Lily Collins as Snow White, a princess in exile, and Julia Roberts as the evil Queen who ruthlessly rules her captured kingdom. Seven courageous rebel dwarfs join forces with Snow White as she fights to reclaim her birthright and win her Prince in this magical comedy filled with jealousy, romance, and betrayal that will capture the hearts and imaginations of audiences the world over. The film also stars Armie Hammer as the Prince, and Nathan Lane as the hapless and bungling servant to the Queen. — (C) Relativity

Now that we got that out of the way…I will say that the parallels between this movie and the ABC series “Once Upon a Time” (http://beta.abc.go.com/shows/once-upon-a-time) are astounding. Heading into its second season, the tv show does amazing things re-inventing the story and intertwining it with other fairy tales in a way that feels fresh, new and surprising. For those who watch “Once” there are no surprises left in “Mirror” that wont feel pale in comparison and heavily copied. Where the tv show creates strong, intelligent, considered characters with motivations and backstory, every character in “Mirror” seems to have only the shallowest of motivations and justifications for their actions.

—- SPOILERS AHEAD —-

It is a challenge to find anything redeeming about this movie. In our modern day desire to have everything re-written and contemporized (it is debatable as to whether this phenomena is succeeding or not) the movie attempts to craft a new Snow White story while holding over many elements from the original. There are the typical items: Evil Queen, Snow White, Dwarves, Prince, Apple. From there it goes its own way with the attempt to make Snow White smarter, edgier and more swashbucklier than her storybook self. Everything about this movie is confusing and leads the viewer to wondering “why” so often.

Nathan Lane is terrible and wasted in this movie. Whether you’re a fan of his or not you can almost see his career dying on screen as you watch him scuttle about as a servant to the Queen. He is intended to serve the role of the legendary Huntsman in this story – taking Snow out into the woods to be slaughtered – but he is anything but. It is less his compassion and more his buffoonery that catapults the story forward. I understand many in Hollywood make children’s movies for their kids – so I hope that is the case here. Otherwise, he could have been replaced by any unknown actor and the same impact would have been had.

The Queen herself is rarely seen as doing anything really “evil” and truly does fall more in the self-indulgent step-mother (of fairy tale fame) category. Her wickedness barely extends to Snow, as she seems educated, clothed, fed and catered to like a royal. She doesn’t even need to bother herself with the issues of ruling a kingdom. The primary point of contention between Snow and Queen is that Queen wants to keep on ruling, which means taxes and undesirable treatment for the citizens, while Snow would replace that with her…benevolent rule perhaps? Neither is presented as any tremendously better option other than the Queen taking the throne for herself so she can remain young. Not the greatest of deeds – nor the worst in the history of most monarchs.

Not as sinister looking as one would expect an usurper of the throne to look

The Dwarves have names now. Not names that we might have known as kids but new ones like Butcher, Chuckles, and Wolf. They seem to have received names and become bandits for no real reason other than needing them to be different than what they were previously.

I understand it is a fairy tale and a movie that was intended for families but as a father I’d like to see my 2 boys (eventually) being exposed to more proper role models. The movie attempts to create a rich and deep Snow White but it ends up coming off as even worse than the original in many ways. The original Disney story made popular the song “Someday My Prince Will Come” – putting Snow in a position of waiting for a man to come along and elevate her from her position in life. Take her away from the domesticated lifestyle of cleaning for dwarves to cleaning his castle. While not a very ideal situation compared to what women are looking for today, the “old” Snow had a strong consistency of character that made understanding her easier. This new Snow White is humble and obedient (with a mild streak of petulance) up until the point when she discovers the Queen is stealing tax dollars and starving the citizens – all in an effort to stay young and beautiful.

The Queen smiles while a mildly-upset Snow White graciously accepts her punishment.

Lately there has been a tremendous amount of internet conversation around the types of images and roles that we’re casting our women into. One individual, Anita Sarkeesian of Feminist Frequency (http://www.feministfrequency.com/), recently had a successful Kickstarter targeted at a research project for “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games” (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/566429325/tropes-vs-women-in-video-games/posts). The Kickstarter received a tremendous amount of support as well as its share of trolls and haters (http://www.feministfrequency.com/2012/06/kickstarter-project-funded-with-6967-backers/ – scroll down to see the new reactions and backlash). Women and their role in video games..interesting. Aren’t men the only one gaming or do we need to consider that our wives, friends, daughters, aunts, mothers and grandmothers are being exposed to these images? What about the impact to our young boys just learning about gender roles and equality?

She’s going to be playing a long, long, long time!

Or how about this POV and associated CNN article on pretty girls pretending to be geeks to get attention (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/07/26/who-gets-to-be-a-geek-anyone-who-wants-to-be/). I bring up these points in relation to “Mirror, Mirror” because they ran through my head as I watched this movie. Aside from the cosplay opportunities presented by the wardrobe, I struggled to find anything that a woman would find redeemable about the female roles within this movie. The movie barely passes the Bechdel Test (http://bechdeltest.com/ – check it out if you haven’t heard about it – very interesting as it relates to the roles of women in moves!). Putting this type of scrutiny on movies, with today’s enlightened audience, makes enjoying movies like this even more challenging. The Queen and Snow are two-dimensional characters that do little to progress the role of women in movies – and in fact – take it a step backwards. Yes, it is a fairy tale, but this is a family movie intending to show themes and archetypes to children. Archetypes and stereotypes that they’ll take forward into life.

Does this sword make me look more threatening?

The only unique thing in this movie was the use of the Mirror. Instead of acting like the magical mirror we expect, this one acts as a portal to another dimension. The Queen is seen entering the Mirror and is instantly transported to another realm, containing only an island on a lake with a small house. The house is sparsely furnished and contains yet another mirror (mirrors within mirrors could have been another interesting magical approach to consider. As if evil intentions reflecting in upon themselves eventually destroy themselves…). Little explanation is made for this artifact and it was one of the coolest things introduced into the story. Not that we’re looking for sequels here, but if there were a magical artifact that could be pulled into a sequel, it was this. The Mirror in this story is what contains all the magic that the Queen is capable of making use of. It appears as if the Queen has no magical ability all her own. The ability to stay young or create the infamous apple all come via the Mirror.

Lastly, there are storytelling elements that are just plain odd:

  • Snow appears to train to become a warrior in moments through a comical confusing montage
  • Everything happens so quickly – like Snow falling in love, Prince falling in love, Snow training, a wedding getting assembled – that it is unrealistic (yes, I know it is a fairy tale!)
  • As time goes on, just as the story could get more serious, it starts to get more goofy and comical. It is jarring and out of place for what has been reasonably straightforward up until this timeframe.
  • The Queen rarely delivers lines in sinister or evil ways and genuinely appears to be happy with her situation as “step-mother”. She was a challenging character to really hate.
  • Again, Sean Bean as the King? The casting director could have tried a little harder on this one…

Ignore my wedding dress while we duel…

Fairy Tales serve as a device to communicate the thoughts, desires and fears of a particular time period. We can look back through the centuries to see how the story of Snow White has evolved and changed as different authors take up the pen in their respective periods, borrow what motifs they like, and evolve the story as they see fit. The story of “Mirror, Mirror” reflects so poorly on the source material and our current-day sensibilities that this story should be quickly and decisively forgotten.

Up next…renting “Snow White and the Huntsman”?

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