Although slightly better than last year’s dreadful Sucker Punch, Mirror Mirror falls flat on its face as a toothless and inane girl power allegory chock full of crazy imagery and pathetic, heavy handed attempts at symbolism. This shouldn’t come as a shock since the film comes to us from the mind of director Tarsem Singh (The Cell, Immortals) and producer Brett Ratner, neither of whom are ever praised for their subtlety or their outstanding portrayals of female characters. Aside from two admittedly delightful lead performances from Lily Collins and Julia Roberts, this subversion of the Snow White fairy tale feels a lot like Snyder’s most recent opus: an allegedly feminist text so obviously created by a bunch of bros that seemingly expect medals for finally creating female characters that aren’t entirely sex objects.
On the dawn of her 18th birthday Snow White (Collins) decides she’s fed up with the tyrannical rule of her evil step-mother (Roberts), and she escapes from the castle she’s been cooped up in after her father’s demise to strike off through the forests and villages of the land on her own. After rescuing a prince/future love interest (Armie Hammer) who was robbed by the seven dwarfs (all with vastly different names here and played by little people except when they put on their stilts and start doing acrobatics). Snow is horrified to find out that the peasants of the town are taxed beyond their means. After trying to come between her royal step-mother and the new prince upon her return, Snow is banished and presumed killed by the queen’s henchman (Nathan Lane). To set things right, Snow becomes a bandit alongside the dwarfs in a Robin Hood-styled fight to win back the prince and reclaim the kingdom in the name of all that’s right.
The biggest and most glaring problem with the film comes from the non-stop comedic touches that Singh simply doesn’t know how to handle. He cares so much about his opulent visuals and attention to production design that he doesn’t realize his story comes in dead on arrival. An interesting drinking game could be made from the number of times a couch or an ottoman take centre stage over the actors trying to make a scene work. His aesthetic choices destroy any potential punchlines.
On top of being a “comedy,” Mirror Mirror also posits itself as family entertainment despite a bunch of leering sexual references and a sequence where we watch a pair of birds take massive dumps on camera before Roberts gets it smeared all over her face while her orifices are being filled with maggots for the most disgusting makeover ever. The actual base story isn’t far removed from one of the more recent Disney princess films like Enchanted or Tangled, but Tarsem just doesn’t seem to understand that kids can get really terrified by crazy shit. It’s like Labrynth mated with a sketch from You Can’t Do That on Television. It all looks immaculate and stunning, but none of it remotely adds up to anything worthwhile.
The script courtesy of Machine Gun Preacher scribe Jason Keller and first timer Melissa Wallack contains a teeth-grinding level of smugness and self-reflextivity. The film does manage to subvert the famed Grimm Brothers fairy tale by making the prince the character in need of rescue, but when he balks at Snow’s heroics by saying that the hero/damsel in distress dynamic has been “focus grouped” and proven to work, the writers show just how little they think of their audience despite the auspices of being something progressive. They share their director’s inability to understand that using subtlety and not spelling things out for your viewers is far more revolutionary than beating them over the head with it. Maybe the script really was written with children in mind, but I doubt that any youngsters will fully grasp just what the intent here was.
Through it all, though, Roberts and Collins shine. Collins makes a great heroine and an even better Snow White. Even if the movie doesn’t match the goodness of her character, Collins is nothing if not genuine. Meanwhile, Roberts approaches the role of a baddy with great aplomb and ravenous scenery chewing. She looks to be having a blast. It’s just a shame that the rest of the cast gets thoroughly wasted in one note roles, especially Hammer and Lane who are just on screen to get thoroughly embarrassed at every turn. Although, there is a cameo at the end of the film that does work simply because it might be one of the best film nerd in-jokes in years. It’s too good to spoil, but not nearly enough to save the movie.
I honestly have no clue who this movie was made for, but to some degree I could see less discerning 12-16 year old girls who haven’t seen Labyrinth but have seen Sucker Punch digging it, but almost anyone old enough to know better will probably balk at this. Everyone has movies they loved as a kid that they probably feel really embarrassed about liking today. Mirror Mirror can only aspire to be one of those movies for this generation.