Film — Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events (PG)
Lemony Snicket's A Series Of Unfortunate Events (PG)
by Amy Diaz
Jim Carrey gets Robin Williams’ disease and sneezes his mugging and scenery-chewing all over the place in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, an adaptation of the first three books in the popular children’s series.
As someone who spends a sizeable chunk of her work week in a movie theater, I am a rabidly anti-movie-disruption. If you want to gossip, take it to the lobby. If you can’t hear and are going to ask the person next to you what was said after every single line, sit closer to the front. If you feel the need to display over-the-top wonderment in order to engage your too-young-to-be-at-the-movies child in a film he’s clearly not watching, rent a DVD. I can understand a few sentences during the trailers but once the feature begins, I really need the audience to shut the heck up.
When talkers emerge, I make it my mission to bravely give them a mean look as I move to another seat (it’s hard to act tough in the middle of SpongeBob SquarePants). But what do you do if the incessant talker ruining an otherwise promising movie experience is on the screen? Sadly, no seat in the theater will put you far enough away from Jim Carrey.
All-singing, all-dancing, always-on-eleven, Carrey makes you think the movie is really called Count Olaf’s A Count Olaf of Count Olafy Events. He prances, he bounds, he bellows, he is act-ING — with all the subtlety of Jon Lovitz’s Master Thespian.
Unfortunately, A Series of Unfortunate Events is a franchise built on subtlety.
Don’t let the “children’s series” description throw you. The books are twisted fun with their deadpan vocabulary lessons, throwaway references to historic or literary figures and heavy overtones of irony. To adapt, for the big screen, a world best viewed through the prism of author Danny Handler’s words is a daunting task to begin with. It requires precision and needle-point-like detail. Instead, the movie uses Carrey like a sledgehammer to smash through the gothic Victorian world of the Baudelaire orphans.
Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken) and baby Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman) are the motherless, fatherless Baudelaires. After the tragic death of their parents and destruction of their house in a big suspicious fire, the Baudelaires are sent by the clueless banker Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) to live with odious distant cousin Count Olaf (Carrey). Olaf has no interest in guardianship but he does want to kill the orphans and take their inheritance. So, when his first attempt, leaving the children trapped in the path of a train, is unsuccessful, he follows them to subsequent guardians’ homes to try to hasten their demise. Sadly, Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly) and Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), the second and third guardians, are kindhearted but not terribly bright. When Olaf arrives, poorly costumed as a lab assistant or a sea captain, the children are quick to point him out but the adults do not recognize his presence until it is too late and they have been murdered.
And, as if staying alive were not difficult enough, the Baudelaires also seek more information about their parents and the horrible fire that ended their lives. Was it intentional? Is it connected to the fire that killed Uncle Monty’s family? What is the apparent secret society of spyglass-holding adventurers?
In the books, all this unfolds with a sort of evil enchantment. Sure, the tales are dark and a little disturbing but, told with Snicket’s melodramatic voice of campy sorrow, they give us that Edward Gorey sense of ghastly fun.
Hints of this appear, occasionally, in the movie. Paired with the beautifully stylized look of the world — very storybook by way of Tim Burton — even a broader version of the Snicket sense of humor would have worked had it come without the albatross of Jim Carrey. Like a yard full of plastic light-up Santas, Carrey sucks the energy out of the movie. He burns so brightly that we can hardly see the subtle young central characters in the glare. Criticisms of anything else (a bit too much sentimentality, the unspectacular narration by Jude Law) seem trivial compared to the ongoing inflammation of the ears and eyes caused by Carrey. Of all the woe visited on the Baudelaires, his presence in their movie is the most unfortunate event of all.
- Amy Diaz
2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH