Mirror Mirror (Singh, 2012)

Mirror Mirror was better than I anticipated based on some groan inducing trailers and commercials. It was mildly diverting although deeply flawed.Warning! There is a major plot spoiler in this review. (Yes, I know, it is Snow White, but don’t say you weren’t warned.)

Here’s the painful thing for me to concede about the film. Where it doesn’t work, it seems like it’s mostly scenes with Julia Roberts in it. Lily Collins has some nice chemistry with Armie Hammer (as a prince) and with the seven dwarves (who fight on stilts in some stylized action sequences). In a scene where she has to save love with love’s first kiss, there is a wonderful mix of bashfulness, excitement, and fear all rolled into one. In another scene where she fights to save the dwarves from some black magic, the film does a nice job of making her a hero with agency rather than a princess to be rescued (but without making her just a woman berserker). Had Mirror Mirror been a Lily Collins movie, it would have been a pleasant Saturday morning alternative, something with a heroine one could get behind and respect.

But Mirror Mirror has Julia Roberts in it, so it must be a Julia Roberts movie. I like Julia Roberts.  I found her charming in Notting Hill and I respect her work in other places. I think, however, her persona is wrong for the material. Her evil queen has neither the icy malevolence to be truly scary, nor the whiff of desperation to be at all sympathetic.

Take for example a seen in which The Queen gets a fairy tale makeover. As her face gets smeared with pigeon shit (I am not making that up), lips stung by bees (to emulate Botox or collagen injections) and cuticles chewed on by maggots, the none too subtle allusion to modern indignities that actresses of a certain age are inferentially railed against, and Roberts is held up, I suppose, as a good sport for playing along (and poking fun at herself?) The Queen is not supposed to be a good sport, however, and its hard to really be afraid of someone while you are invited to laugh at her.

The other really big reservation I have about Mirror Mirror is that it basically ends with what looks to all the world like Snow White forcing the Queen to commit suicide at knife point while reciting a Rambo/Schwarzennegeresque “gotcha” sound bite and then cutting to a Bollywood style dance. I’ve complained elsewhere about the modern tendency in what are otherwise kids’ movies to insist that the villain must not just be defeated but killed. I get all the arguments about the death penalty and the philosophical problem of unrepentant evil, it’s just that…I guess I long for the days where, in a movie for kids, there could remain a space where winning didn’t mean just conquering your enemy but also overcoming your instinct to revel in his or her demise.

That said, part of the reason Snow’s gleeful kicking of The Queen while she is down and on her way out is that Collins did such a nice job of making me really like her and care about her, of turning the film into a true bildungsroman about a girl who has grown emotionally as well as physically into maturity.

I enjoyed the music by Alan Menken. I enjoyed the costumes and art design. I just felt like every time the film got a little momentum it cut back to the castle and just grounded to a halt.

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