Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
Mika Muller marries renowned pianist Andre Polonski in beautiful Lausanne Switzerland after his wife dies. Soon after 18-year-old pianist Jeanne Pollet learns that she and Polonski's son Guillaume were momentarily switched at birth at the hospital where they were born. When Jeanne's curiosity is further piqued by the coincidence that she not Guillaume shares Andre's gift for the piano she pays an unexpected visit to the Polonskis' lovely Lausanne home. There she meets the polite but detached Mika the somewhat aimless Guillaume and the pianist himself. Andre is taken with Jeanne's skill at the piano and offers to instruct her while Mika feigns tolerance. But Mika has other distractions: As head of her family's chocolate business she struggles to keep it on firm economic ground. Also on a more sinister note she tampers with the hot chocolate she often serves to the extent that it dangerously sedates those who drink it. After Mika clumsily spills the drink Jeanne's suspicions are aroused and her boyfriend Axel--a budding scientist--confirms that the hot chocolate is tainted. A tragic auto accident in which Andre's second wife was killed provides further clues. On a subsequent fateful night when Jeanne and Guillaume are driving together Mika is finally revealed to be the stone-cold monster that she is.
Once again Isabelle Huppert here starring as Mika takes on and owns the role of a totally repugnant person. Other examples include the recent The Piano Teacher and The Ceremony this latter also a collaboration of Nightcap's director Claude Chabrol and screenwriter Caroline Eliacheff. Huppert an amazing actress who is a vet of dozens of films has a challenge on her hands with Nightcap mainly because her villainous character is so Swiss bourgeois cold and abstruse. Still absenting the fact that Huppert doesn't spill chocolate very convincingly her performance mesmerizes. As Andre Jacques Dutronc familiar to French film fans convinces as the largely clueless pianist focused solely on his art. Others including Anna Mouglalis as Jeanne and Brigitte Catillon as her mother Louise are fine in their roles. Foreign film buffs will also welcome the participation of vet Swiss actor Michel Robin portraying one of Mika's pesky executives.
Vet French director Chabrol delivers beautiful Lausanne settings elegant music and mostly flawless bourgeois characters in a soapy melodrama that is easier to watch than believe. With scores of films to his credit Chabrol is a master of the kind of cool elegant ironic suspense that informs Nightcap but his problem here is that he doesn't have a terribly credible story. Still he elicits interesting performances from his actors and delivers a cool elegant style that befits the refined upper-class Swiss settings. As for irony Chabrol lays on a multitude of elegant music pieces (both from the classical repertoire and composed by his son Matthieu) that are an ironic counterpoint to the evil bubbling at the film's nasty core.