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Sunday, April 22, 2012


Release date in India:
April 20, 2012
Tarsem Singh Dhandwar
Julia Roberts, Lily Collins, Armie Hammer, Nathan Lane   

The problem with Julia Roberts is that she’s too darned beautiful. And the woman’s got such an arresting screen presence, that if you cast her as the Queen in a re-interpretation of Snow White, you’d better make sure Snow White herself is played by a helluva charismatic actress.

There you go: the biggest and most basic problem with Mirror Mirror is this: could a fair and just mirror truthfully tell gorgeous Julia that pretty-but-that’s-about-it Lily Collins is “the fairest of them all”?
There’s the other thing: Mirror Mirror introduces a few novel elements into the old fairytale, but it’s not enough to make this a novel film. So yes, the costumes are lavish, Julia is as stunning as always, and the overall production design is as rich and sumptuous as you would expect in a Tarsem Singh Dhandwar film. But the script needed something more than merely claiming to be Snow White from the wicked stepmother’s point of view.

That’s how Mirror Mirror begins, by the way. Julia a.k.a. the evil Queen is addressing us, the audience, informing us that her husband, the widowed King, married her to ensure that his daughter Snow White would not remain motherless. Those were happy days for the kingdom – the people sang and danced all the time, says the acidic Queen, because it seems in those days they had nothing else to do! Her sarcastic dig at the traditional description of happy subjects in fairytales is a lovely start. Maybe (I thought as I watched) this will turn out to be a spoof on fairytale clichés? But no, there’s not much more of that self-deprecation in the film. So despite a few additional plot twists, the story we are served is still the same old tale about a Queen who is jealous of her beautiful stepdaughter, a handsome Prince and seven dwarfs.
But wait! Perhaps there’s a feminist touch to the adaptation? Look! In contrast with the original story, Snow White here is portrayed as less of a wimpish babe in the woods in her encounters with the Prince. And the Queen is openly unapologetic about her sexual desires … when the Prince appears shirtless before her for a second time for reasons I will not explain, she says: someone get him a shirt so that I can concentrate (we can totally understand, dear Queen, since Armie “the Winklevoss twins” Hammer from The Social Network plays the Prince)! But even these points are not taken much further.

As for Mirror Mirror’s uncharacteristic sense of humour … I loved some of the Queen’s cheeky dialogues, especially the one about how commoners always “love a good metaphor”. But there’s not enough of that. The Queen’s obsession with youth is exemplified by one of the film’s best scenes in which she resorts to all sorts of exotic treatments, all of which are jibes at modern-day anti-ageing cosmetics and therapies. But again, the story does not delve further into that point.
So the question is: what’s so different about this telling of Snow White?

When I was a kid, I lapped up all Grimm’s fairytales unquestioningly. As I grew up though, I began to recognise the sexism and sexist ageism that they were steeped in. Nasty things in these stories were usually wrought on good folk by vile women. The witch (most often an old, wrinkled female figure) was the favoured symbol of the epitome of evil. And stepmothers were stereotyped in a way that no doubt caused much social harm. Every single one of these elements came together in Snow White. Female villain – check. Good men suffering the machinations of female villain – check. Innocent younger woman – check. Wicked witch/old woman – check. Wicked stepmother – check. Now please don’t tell me these were harmless fables. Little girls who were fed these clichés grew into teenagers consuming the same clichés in Mills & Boon and other frivolous romances where a simpering, pretty young woman most often fell for an older, stronger, tall dark handsome man, while lurking in the background was a resentful older woman trying to under-cut her. Note how age in a man was used in these books to symbolise confidence, maturity and desirability, while in a woman it was an indicator of insecurity and resentment towards youth! Now how amazing it would have been if Mirror Mirror had turned each of these stereotypes on their head. Sadly, that does not happen.

Somewhat modern but not modern enough … Somewhat feminist but not enough … Somewhat sassy but not enough … That’s the only way to describe Mirror Mirror.
But I’d still recommend this film to Indian viewers because of a uniquely desi touch that Punjab-born Hollywood director Tarsem Singh brings to it. I won’t tell you when, where and why, but when you are least expecting it, a major character in the film breaks into a song and dance that we Bollywood freaks would certainly call an “item song”. For that, its luxurious look and the luminous Julia Roberts, this film is worth a watch in spite of its overall not-enoughness.

Rating (out of five): **1/2

Release date in the US:
March 30, 2012             
MPAA Rating (US):
PG (for some fantasy action and mild rude humour)
CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
106 minutes