Picoreview: A New York Winter’s Tale: That was really pretty awful.
Ted had read me a bit of a review which had pretty well panned the film, saying, among other things, that there was too much magic. We went “wtf, it’s a fairy tale, how can there be too much magic?”
There was too much magic.
I can see where it might have worked in the book (which I may now have to read, just out of curiosity), but on screen it was just Too Much. Too twee, too corny, too whatever, but too much. Which is really too bad, because the basic idea of the story is a rather charming sweet idea: sometimes two people meet up because they have a miracle to share with one another, and that miracle has ripple effects. There are angelic creatures who try to help make sure the miracles happen and demonic ones who try to stop them. The idea works well enough, and there are fairly wide swaths where the magic works, but when it goes too far it goes so much too far that the end result is, well, pretty awful.
Although–if you’re inclined to judge a movie by my reviews, possibly it should be borne in mind that I also think Legend is pretty awful, a stance which my husband feels is a travesty, so that’s my standard here. :)
Spoilers behind the cut.
First: the timeline is wonked. It starts in 1895, middles extensively in 1915, a year in which Colin Farrell, an infant in 1895, has grown up to be 37, and ends in 2014 when a girl who was approximately 9 years of age in 1915 is not only still alive but active and hep enough to be running a newspaper. 108 is *old*, people. Really *old*. Honestly, it took me an unreasonably long time, despite the obvious pointers, to be sure that Farrell was meant to have been the baby in the first scene, because I couldn’t figure out why they’d cast a 37 year old man in a role apparently meant for a 20 year old. I spent a fair while thinking that the heroine, Beverly, must actually have been the initial baby (a theory (accidentally, I suppose) supported by context in the film, actually), because she was the right *age*. But no, it was just that the timeline was badly screwed up. There’s no comprehensible reason why they couldn’t have 1. not put actual dates on the bookending timelines, or 2. moved 1895 back to 1880, or 3. moved the middle story forward 15 years. Although (this I will grant them) the 1915 costumes were very beautiful and perhaps they really desperately wanted to use that style of costuming. Still, 1 and 3 would still have been viable options without leaving me wondering for the first half hour of the film WTF was going on with the timeline.
Second: for further incomprehensible reasons, except perhaps working on the assumption that Farrell’s natural accent is his most charming one, Farrell’s character, Peter, who was for all intents and purposes American and had been since birth, spoke with an Irish accent. This meant that Russell Crowe’s character, who had sort of raised Peter, also had to speak with an Irish accent. Neither of these things were *bad*–Farrell is in fact charming and Crowe’s accent was mostly fine–except in the sense of “why the everloving hell did they do that?”
Third, and this was probably the most egregious “oh god why did they do that”: Will Smith is badly miscast as Lucifer in this film. It is not that Will Smith couldn’t potentially make a very interesting Lucifer. In fact, there were moments where I almost forgot it was Will Smith Playing Lucifer–but that was the problem. It’s a bit part and intended to surprise the audience, which is great, except this particular audience member went “Oh look, Will Smith! It’s a bit part intended to surprise the audience!” and I couldn’t get past him being, you know, Will Smith! (It reminded me of the 3rd Matrix movie where they couldn’t get Sean Connery to play the Architect, so they cast some guy who was obviously the guy you cast when you can’t get Sean Connery, and I spent every scene he was in, in that film, going, “Gosh, too bad for them they couldn’t get Sean Connery.”)
And then there was the magic.
There were two problems with the magic. One was the winged horse. The wings were very pretty (and enormous, as a flying horse would need), but frankly, you could hear the audience’s suspension of disbelief snap like a dry twig when the horse sprang wings, and while there were plenty of moments where it came back, every time the horse’s wings showed up again, it snapped again. So that was a problem.
The other problem with the magic is was that our heroine, Beverly, is dying of The Fever. The Fever means she can see the (mystical) Light that connects each person to one another, and the entire thing implies that The Fever (which causes her to wear diaphanous versions of 1915 clothes and sleep in a gauze-walled tent outdoors in the winter so she doesn’t burn up) is magical in nature. Snow melts at an unnatural rate when she stands barefoot in it when The Fever is Upon Her, but if she can cool down, it recrystalizes and things. Magic-type stuff. The Fever, it is implied through storytelling, is Reasonably Well Known, and considered dangerous. The implication is that magic is not an unknown commodity in this world. So far so good. That’s all really quite lovely and I really liked it.
Except then they called it consumption and said it wasn’t infectious.
Now. Okay. Generic wasting disease = consumption, I get that. *But*. The disease most commonly referred to as consumption is tuberculosis, which *is* infectious, which means that the previous statement of non-infectiousness implying that The Fever was like a magical genetic disease, isn’t accurate, which throws all the worldbuilding there *off*. And they could have just *left* it at The Fever and it all would have been really splendid and *worked*, but no, they had to use this other *word* and that screwed it up. And that was INCREDIBLY frustrating to me, because it had been *so* pretty, and then with one single word they blew it. Argh!
Also, the trailers suggested the story is pretty well split between modern and historical, when in fact the considerable bulk of the story takes place in 1915. That’d be okay, except since my expectation was a more balanced storyline I kept wondering when they were gonna get to the other half of the story, which ended up being more like the last thirdish rather than half. An exceedingly manipulative and tear-jerky final third, for that matter–they play the Kid With Cancer card (spoiler: she lives)–although despite the mawkishness, the *idea* of what they’re doing and how the story all connects over a hundred years is again really sweet and delightful.
It *could* have been a charming movie, but instead, it’s really pretty awful…and given how long this review turned out to be, apparently I’m taking that personally. :)
(x-posted from The Essential Kit)