By: BabyRuth (Four Beers) –
Every so often a film comes along. A sweeping, timeless, romantic epic of a film to be cherished for many generations.
Winter’s Tale is not one of these films, but it sure wants to be.
Where do I even start in summarizing this plot? Okay, so first there’s a baby in 1895. His parents aren’t allowed into the United States so they put the baby in a super-tiny boat to float off to New York. The baby somehow survives (must be one of these miracles the endless breathy narration informs us about) and we meet him again 21 years later and learn his name is Peter Lake (37-year-old Colin Farrell) and that he’s a burglar on the run from his former crime-boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe, pretty much reprising his Javert from Les Misérables, thankfully without the singing). Just when all hope seems lost, a white horse suddenly appears. Peter jumps on and the horse flies away.
You still here? I’m impressed. Alright, so then Peter decides to break in to one last house, a mansion actually, where it appears the family has left for an out-of-town trip. But once inside, he is confronted by the beautiful red-haired daughter, Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay), who has stayed behind a couple of days due to her illness: consumption a.k.a. the most glamorous cinematic terminal disease (see also: Moulin Rouge). Naturally, it’s love at first sight, despite the fact that Peter was, you know, attempting to rob her family. Bygones. Peter and Beverly get closer and he even eventually wins the approval of her father by fixing their furnace (yeah, I don’t know either). But sadly, they both know their romance will be short-lived because Beverly is doomed to a short life. Hoping to speed up the shortness of Beverly’s life is that dastardly Pearly, still hot on Peter’s trail.
But wait! Miracles exist. Maybe Peter can somehow save Beverly through the power of true love and a special bed in the middle of a garden. But! Oh my god! Then we find out that Pearly is actually a demon and then there’s more of that flying horse and people turn into stars when they die and then it’s 2014 and oh hi Jennifer Connelly and seriously, what the hell is up with Colin Farrell’s hair?
This is screenwriter Akiva Goldsman’s directorial debut. He’s best known for writing A Beautiful Mind (which coincidentally also stars Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly), for which he won an Oscar. But you know what else he wrote? Batman and Robin. Yup, this is the guy responsible for all those ice puns (funnily enough, in this movie we get a character who is feverishly hot all of the time so here we’re treated to a few romantic ones about melting) so this movie was destined to go all the way one way or all the way the other. I think I’ve already made it pretty clear which one it is, but damn if Goldsman didn’t give it his all. It’s so earnest and ambitious that I kind of feel bad for knocking it so I’m going to give Goldsman a toast here for a worthy attempt to bring this cynical world a magical love story to believe in. I’m a freakin’ sap so I hung in there the whole time and it tries, it really tries.
I’ll raise my glass again to the art direction and cinematography because, if nothing else, it’s a very attractive film to look at.
Pretty people. Pretty snow.
Finally, there’s the cast who all do their best with the schmaltzy material. Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay have a believable chemistry. Russell Crowe seems to be having a whole lot of fun playing evil. And the wonderful Eva Marie Saint delivers the most emotional moment in the movie (I almost welled up. Almost.). Of course, the horse is awesome too.
“Hey Colin, can you get me a large coffee and some Munchkins? I’m flying your ass around, it’s the least you can do.”
Winter’s Tale is adapted from Mark Helprin’s bestselling novel which is over 700(!) pages long. Condensing that much material into a two hour film is a difficult task, and it shows in the final product, which often feels chopped up and pasted together. It’s frequently hard to follow and to say there are a few plot-holes would be an understatement. I suppose it would make more sense to someone who has read the book, but that should never be a requirement for a novel’s successful transition to screen. It’s worth dropping a bit of trivia here that Martin Scorsese backed out after purchasing the rights to the story, reportedly calling it “unfilmable.”
The action jumps from 1895 to 2014 to 1916 and back again to 2014. It’s all very confusing and little explanation is provided, unless you count the graphics of the years that appear onscreen with each switch.
The passage of nearly 100 years is never clearly explained when an amnesiac Peter reemerges wandering around present-day New York at the start of the second act. He hasn’t aged a bit, due to his needing to carry out his miracle (I think). But what about all those years? Did he time-travel, or did he live out a century just wandering around and drawing on sidewalks? We never find out. (I guess that’s wasn’t an important part of the book.) But then what about a character we meet again who has aged and is now, like, 108 years old? I guess this never crossed Goldman’s mind when he made his choice to update “present-day” from the 1983 of the novel to 2014.
So I mentioned that magical things happen… Things like white horses that appear out of nowhere and sprout wings. Things like every person having the ability to perform one miracle. Things like people not aging for one hundred years. Things like a person actually aging one hundred years and still being a competent editor-in-chief of a major news publication.
Again, for someone not familiar with the novel, it feels very out of nowhere, given that up until the first instance, the mystical world of this movie had not yet been established, making the reveal extremely jarring and also hilarious. There are many WTF moments like that throughout and each time, the attempted magical realism never feels fully magical nor real, only there.
To recap, we have demons, flying horses, people turning into stars, and Colin Farrell as a 21-year old, yet none of these things are even the most ridiculous part of this movie. The moment that gets that honor is when Pearly goes to visit his boss, you know the one that all the demons have to report to?
And brace yourself for who plays Satan, because it’s a whopper. Even if you allow yourself to become fully immersed in the story up until this point, there is absolutely no doubt this casting will yank you right the hell out of it and flip-turn you upside down. It also appears that the actor just wandered onto the set one day wearing whatever clothes he happened to throw on that morning which adds to the cameo feeling even more out of place and random.
Winter’s Tale is a bizarre and ham-fisted mess but at the same time, I wasn’t ever bored and there were some (unintentional) laughs. I’d say wait a couple of months until it’s available on DVD/Netflix and drink heavily while watching. But then again, it’s almost worth going to the theater for the audience reactions alone.
Take a Drink: every time you laugh at something that isn’t meant to be funny. Do a Shot: if you snort.
Take a Drink: every time a star is shown.
Take a Drink: every time Colin Farrell cries.
Take a Drink: for every cheesy bit of dialogue.
Take a Drink: every time you are confused.
Take a Drink: whenever you are distracted by Colin Farrell’s 90’s haircut.
Take a Drink: every time the horse is referred to as “Horse.”
Take a Drink: every time the horse is referred to as a dog.
Do a Shot: when Lucifer is revealed. Then Do Another. Repeat as Needed.