Cursed with an excruciatingly boisterous trailer that screams “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter,” the Snow White comedy Mirror, Mirror turns out to be not that terrible — or maybe it’s that the terrible first half hour wears you down so much that the rest seems relatively pleasant. The problem is that there’s a lot of competition in the “fractured fairy tale” genre these days and it’s not enough to have beloved Brothers Grimm favorites cracking wise and dropping anachronisms. There has to be a satirical point of view. There is no point of view of any kind in Mirror, Mirror. But there’s a Snow White for whom any dwarf — this one included — would die.
Her name is Lily Collins and she is the daughter of Phil. When I Googled her, the first thing that came up was “lily collins eyebrows.” Indeed: You can’t miss them. They are black and perhaps twice as thick as the eyes they o’erloom. Somehow they do not make her look like one of those scary wolf girls who are electrologists’ dreams. The full underlip draws your eyes down and balances out her face. Her skin in Mirror, Mirror is the color of the purest … you know. Her costumes, by the formidable Eiko Ishioka, are both mythical and alluring — they made me feel Jung at heart. They subtly enhance the swan in her, or not-so-subtly in the case of the swan on her head in the costume ball. Collins also has a stunt double identified as Naomi Frenette who makes Snow White’s body in motion as beautiful as her face in repose.
Snow fights, you see. Storybook heroines have to these days, even if, like Lewis Carroll’s Alice, they were formerly expected to disarm with logic. The next Snow White, to be played by Kristen Stewart, looks like she got lost on the way to the set of a Joan of Arc movie. (A friend of mine’s daughter nearly wept on seeing The Princess Bride from way back in 1987, with its storybook heroine who cowers on the sidelines while her knight takes the blows.) In Mirror, Mirror, Snow White must best her Prince Charming in a duel before she even gives him the chance to rescue her. And this being a postmodern fairy tale, she must also tell him she’s tired of stories in which damsels take their distress lying down. Fortunately, her prince, Armie Hammer, finds just the right balance between wooden handsomeness and rubber fluster. He can go either way.
The other revisionist element in Mirror, Mirror is that the seven dwarves are no longer insipid Disney sweeties but mean, muddy thieves. This makes a lot of sense but I still miss Happy, Doc, Bashful, and the rest. There’s something crisp and clean and distinct about those Disney dwarves that gets lost here amid the clutter. And there’s a lot of clutter. Director Tarsem is one of those would-be visionaries whose visions never quite coalesce and take wing.
Julia Roberts gets top billing as the wicked Queen, and her huge, histrionic performance would be funnier if she didn’t have to work so hard to convince us that she’s a huge, histrionic actress. She’s not. She’s a good, naturalistic movie star trying to parody a style of acting that she couldn’t do straight, and she’s stuck playing most of her scenes with Nathan Lane, a stage ham who cartoonishly telegraphs everything, leaving you nothing to discover. But I ended up liking her. She’s all in. The “Who’s the Fairest of Them All?” thing is uncomfortably close to the film’s subtext, with Roberts playing someone who can’t, no matter how hard she tries, be the fairest ingénue, and the actress’s realization of that is obvious and poignant. She can’t do anything with the bad lines but she can give the good ones — like her retort to the Prince’s declaration of Snow White’s incomparable beauty, “Agree to disagree” — an extra zing. She needs to be careful about her face, though. If she lets it get any thinner, her lips are going to meet in back of her head.