They used to say, of Broadway musicals deficient in melody but spectacular in design, that audiences walked out “humming the sets”. Mirror Mirror, a tangy take on the Snow White fable, misses nearly every opportunity to be funny: the dialogue is flat, tense for a mind it never reaches, and the pacing is numbed when it should be. lively. But, the couture, honey, is hilariously divine. Julia Roberts, as the evil queen of this fairytale kingdom, is first seen in a gargantuan orange dress sitting on a seashell throne that seems an extension of her dress; she looks like she’s being devoured by a voracious mollusk. Courtiers’ clothes are also a riot: At a stately ball, handsome Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) sports bunny ears in his top hat and fluffy bunny feet on his hands. So even if you’re as pissed off about the movie as I am, you’ll come out laughing at the costumes.
All belated praise to Eiko Ishioka, the great designer whose clothes have graced Broadway plays (Mr. Butterfly) and musicals (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), circus shows (Cirque du Soleil Varekai) and the opening and closing nights of the Beijing Olympics. Ishioka, who died in January at 75, didn’t do many movies, but what she did was a choice. His costumes for Paul Schrader Mishima: a life in four chapters and Francis Coppola Bram Stoker’s Dracula helped define the style of these lush, sepulchral films.
“The costumes are the sets,” Ishioka said in a documentary about his work with Coppola. Her outfit certainly complements the tumultuous views envisioned by Tarsem Singh Dhandwar, the Indian-born director of Mirror Mirrorand before that of The cell, The fall and Immortals, for which Ishioka designed attractive costumes. Whatever his failings as a comedy director, Tarsem shared his connoisseur’s eye for cinematic luxury; and the clothes she made for Mirror Mirror – another Roberts dress that suggests real peacock ostentation, the saffron cape with matching hoodie worn by Snow White (Lily Collins) – are as illuminating as Tom Foden’s production grandiose design, which have their own fun value of a fairy tale kingdom in a hashish dream. Agree, you will also come out laughing at the sets.
(READ: Corliss’ review of Tarsem Immortals)
But not the movie. A kind of medieval The devil wears Prada with aspirations of the Pprincess bridemix of romance and sly comedy, Mirror Mirror also offers early hints that he will be playing for the Snow White story what Bad made for The Wizard of Oz: turning a would-be villain into a misunderstood heroine. Do not arrive. The opening narration, delivered by Roberts, carries a subversive tone, such as when the queen says that the ancient kingdom was a happy place where citizens sang and danced, adding acidly: “Apparently no one had a job to the time; they just sang and danced. Will Snow White turn out to be a earthy child out of The bad seed Where the omen Where Orphan, unfairly tarnishing the reputation of a devoted mother-in-law? She is not going. She’s your standard brave, stainless teenage girl who, like in Grimm’s fable, escapes the Queen’s death sentence, plays house with seven dwarfs, and seals her fate with Prince Charming with a perfect, invigorating kiss.
And the queen of the film, instead of commanding sympathy as a beautiful woman who must poignantly face middle age in a land where only the very young become heroines, is the same rotten old relative. Roberts, who turns 45 this fall, and whose performance is nothing if not a game, puts herself through a beauty regimen that includes a parrot poo mud wrap and real bee stings to give her lips this roundness of collagen. The Queen’s magic mirror image says she is the perfect reflection of Her Majesty, except “I have no wrinkles”. (“Those aren’t wrinkles,” protests the queen. “Those are wrinkles.”) Perfectly suited to the young female population that has The hunger Games a mega smash, Mirror Mirror requires mothers who take their daughters to the movies to be able to laugh at lame jokes about their budding decadence. At least that ageist bias isn’t unique to this movie. From “Hansel and Gretel” to TangledDisney’s recent take on “Rumpelstiltskin,” the Grimm canon is full of evil middle-aged women preying on innocent young people.
(FIND: White as snow among the top 25 animated feature films of all time)
Dwarves fare better; this time they’re highwaymen who learn to steal from the rich and give to the poor – they’re merry men with Snow White like Robin Hood. The film manages to define each dwarf without naming them by their moods, as Disney did, and a few have a distinctive charm; Mark Povinelli is particularly good as Half-Pint (the one in love who looks like James Franco). They certainly have more appeal than Hammer, who earned an Oscar nomination as the Winklevoss twins in The social network but here only emerges the confused and innocuous charm of the young Brendan Fraser. Nor can I add to the elated reviews given to Collins (daughter of Phil), who has been inexplicably heralded as the new Audrey Hepburn. Sacrilege! Hepburn was a screen beauty who radiated magical grace from every frame; Collins is poised but brooding and sports the lavish eyebrows a Hollywood makeup artist used to give leading ladies when performing frumps. We’ll take a teenage Winona Ryder, or any Disney Channel brunette, on this No White.