Infusing fairy tales with copious amounts of comedy can enliven and enrich a story, as The Princess Bride so deftly demonstrated. Then again, comedy employed for cheap, quick laughs can be tedious, if not torturous, as in the disastrous Ella Enchanted. Sadly, Mirror Mirror, which will be released Friday, falls closer to the latter end of the comedic fairy-tale spectrum, despite some game and delightful performances.
Offering up a fresh take on the Snow White story, Mirror Mirror (rated PG for some fantasy action and mild rude humor) stars Julia Roberts as a vain and impulsive queen determined to keep her sweet and lovely stepdaughter Snow White (Lily Collins), the heir to the kingdom, virtually locked away from her people. Into the mix comes a group of seven outcast dwarfs who have resorted to thievery and a young prince (Armie Hammer) looking for adventure, who, of course, falls for Snow White while her stepmother schemes to woo the wealthy prince for herself in order to save her impoverished kingdom.
A light-hearted, slapstick conception of the classic tale could be promising, but the approach taken by the writers and director values fleeting, clichéd humor that largely neglects any connection to the story while attempting to serve the moment, and generally failing at that as well. The effect is often jarring, making it difficult to stay engaged with the story.
Another problem the film presents is the shallow development of some characters, especially the dwarfs, which makes them appear almost tangential instead of critical to the story.
Several other standout performers, though, may leave the viewer wishing upon these stars that they had a better script to work with. Roberts does a masterful job, expertly twisting her trademark megawatt smile to fit the fiendish and cartoonish queen, who is thoroughly wicked and proud of it. Standing beside her is veteran comic actor Nathan Lane, who delivers a pitch-perfect performance as her servant Brighton. Lane deftly manages to generate some well-earned laughs through his deadpan approach to the silliness surrounding him.
Truly wasted by the poor script is an enchanting, somewhat-modern-yet-classic take on Snow White by relative newcomer Lily Collins, whom audiences might remember as the Tuohy daughter in The Blind Side. In an exclusive interview for WORLD, Collins told me that she studied performances by Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor to help her achieve an elegant performance, and their influence clearly shows.
Collins hopes young girls can find something relatable and empowering in her character. She is proud of the fact that, unlike the queen, Snow White never looks in the mirror and isn't concerned about outward beauty. Snow White's character arc, Collins said, is "about building self-confidence and finding the beauty within."
Collins also achieves an exceptional balance between maintaining the classic feminine purity of Snow White while growing into a confident young woman prepared to take her rightful place on the throne. Part of that maturation and balance, according to Collins, is "knowing when you can help others and when you can accept help."
Though anyone over the age of 12 may find Mirror Mirror to be wearisome, the stellar performances by a couple of veterans and a promising up-and-comer help mitigate the film's shortcomings.