Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
- Brad Silberling
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Monday, January 24, 2005
The Baudelaire children, Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken) and Sunny (Kara/Shelby Hoffman) just lost their parents due to a mysterious fire. That’s how they end up with their “closest” relative, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), an eccentric actor who only wants them for their money. Then again, he has to kill them in order to get it. And thus begins a wild adventure in which the children try to stay alive while being chased by him even when they’ve moved with other relatives such as reptile-expert Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly) or paranoid grammar expert Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep).
A live-action movie about a weird guy trying to kill three lovable children? You heard it right! And I couldn’t be more amazed myself. I’ve heard the Lemony Snicket books are just as popular, or almost, as the Harry Potter ones. Truth be told, I’d never heard of them. And I’m quite amazed that they are so beloved by children. In fact, this is a children’s movie, which makes it even more disturbing. I’m not sure I would let my kids watch something like this, but on the other hand I do remember that as I child I got to see pretty disturbing movies and loved them (Nothing But Trouble (1991) comes to mind... don’t ask!). Fact is, I am not a traumatized fellow, so there you go, this is all very subjective. That said, this movie is as dark as a shadow, and as bizarre as a Picasso painting.
I have to admit I love black humor, and this movie has plenty. Characters die, terrible things happen to good people, and amidst it all, there’s always a witty line or a funny situation. I actually had a great time with the movie. It is over-the-top, but it is also hilarious and wildly imaginative. Take, for instance, its introduction. It definitely takes you off-guard. Or take, for instance, Sunny’s subtitled baby talk. It gets the most laughs out of anything else in the movie. And part of it is because it’s just morbid to realize such a lovable-looking baby could be so smart, witty and adult-like. In a way, she’s us.
That said, I do think there was potential in greatness here. Just as it happened with the first Harry Potter movie, Lemony Snicket got its first movie outing from the hands of a so-so director. Brad Silberling does a good job, I’m not complaining. But in the hands of a more skilled director, this movie could’ve been great, even a classic. Silberling is too constrained. The story is almost all about imagination, but while the production design is excellent, the director doesn’t take the fullest out of it. We never get a real sense of awe, his camera is too still and captures too little for most of the time. He also goes for a more theatrical approach rather than a cinematic one. At times it works, at times it doesn’t. And yes, the movie is episodic, but that’s not as much his fault as it is to the fact that three Lemony Snicket books were crammed into one motion picture.
As for the technical aspects, the production design and photography are great. Sometimes it almost feels as if we’re watching a twisted cartoon, which is the point I guess. But the costumes and make-up are even greater. Astonishing work there! Sadly I can’t say the same about Thomas Newman’s score. Sometimes I felt like I was hearing his work from Road to Perdition (2002) all over again, which felt even more familiar when having Liam Aiken, who stars in both movies, up there on the screen.
And speaking of Aiken, he and his co-stars deliver wonderful performances. Browning is extraordinary, Aiken nails his role and the Hoffman twins are adorable. One of my favorite scenes has Sunny with a snake. If you see the movie you’ll know what I mean. And the whole Meryl Streep segment is great fun. I also had a blast in a scene where some strange things happen to her house, perhaps too strange to believe. Billy Connolly is a perfect Uncle Monty. And that leads to Jim Carrey, who, yes, does an excellent job as well. It just fits with the overall feel and tone of the movie.
“She's the mayor of crazy town.”
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