Lemony Snicket brings bundle of tasty wrappers
Hats off to anyone who goes to a film released just before Christmas entitled “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” It sounds like just what you were after for a little holiday cheer, right?As it turns out, “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” delivers just as potent a message as any contrived seasonal blockbuster, and the beauty is that it takes a crookedly candid, off-beat route to get you there. Although the aim to be off-camber gets a little dry and gimmicky itself at times, the film is certainly a refreshing dose of dark lager (or chocolate milk, kids) after drinking sickly sweet eggnog all December. There’s no question that the talent dynamic of this film is centered around Jim Carrey. But how can the child actors (Emily Browning as Violet Baudelaire and Liam Aiken as Klaus) possibly have a fair crack at stealing the show when Carrey’s strutting around pretending to be a dinosaur? But I have to hand it to them, pulling off a child’s role without getting too cute isn’t easy.
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” is based on the children’s books by Daniel Handler. It’s the story of three children who are orphaned after their parents die in a mysterious house fire. A bumbling banker (Timothy Spall) drives them from relative to beyond-distant-relative, trying to find them a suitable guardian to whom their parents’ substantial fortune will eventually be bequeathed. Thus, the money-grubbing “uncle” Count Olaf (Carrey) enthusiastically thrusts his dusty foot in the door. Carrey’s initial appearance in the film arrives like Mick Jagger on stage during a stadium tour. Every aspect of his trademark melodrama is pronounced from his exaggerated one-eyed stares to his bouncy saunter out of the shadows when the children walk in, looking every bit like the sinister thief he turns out to be.When the Baudelaire children arrive, each with their token individual talents – Violet who invents things, Klaus the bookworm and toddler Sunny, who likes to chew on tables and whose subtitled baby talk translations don’t actually add much – the plot takes a turn towards Cinderella.Amidst the Tim Burtonesque setting that holds strong as a tombstone throughout the story, the Baudelaires’ new life with Olaf finds them scrubbing his floors, washing his dishes and finding enough edible materials among the dead bugs and rats in his kitchen to make him dinner. When the authorities discover that Olaf is a less-than-adequate parent, the Baudelaires are shipped off to guardian No. 2, reptile-obsessed Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), who would shape up to be a loving and caring role model if he didn’t fall casualty to the series of unfortunate events …
Guardian No. 3 is neurotic Aunt Josephine, whose role is funneled into perhaps one of the most bizarre performances ever wrought during the rich acting history of Meryl Streep. Josephine doesn’t want the children to go near the refrigerator for fear it will fall on them, steers them clear of avocados so the seeds don’t get lodged in their throats, and is psychotically meticulous when it comes to grammar. Also, Dustin Hoffman appears in a cameo whose purpose doesn’t appear to extend beyond a “Hey, it’s Dustin Hoffman” audience realization.In the same vein as the books, the film collapses into the throws of ridiculous through every pitfall from man-eating leeches to cuddly viper snakes. But, having just read “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Lemony Snicket,” I was actually pleasantly surprised by this film. After I read the last page, hoping that somehow the nonsense from every preceding page would suddenly come together, I was instead completely baffled. It was later that I saw the disclaimer about how it was necessary to read “A Series of Unfortunate Events” beforehand.Lemony Snicket (Jude Law) narrates the film, and we never know much about him or his interest in the lives of the Baudelaire children. The mystery, however, is the key to his character. Instead of providing a coherent introduction, an “interview” on the official Website (www.lemonysnicket.com) opens with the statement, “if you are looking for Lemony Snicket, you’re probably ugly.” During the interview, Snicket cites taxidermy as one of his childhood pastimes and at the end, when the interviewer asks him if he’s a real person, he says, of course, “aren’t you?”
Children are the strong ones in the world of Lemony Snicket and adults are silly and unstable. Or wait, is that true to life …?Falling somewhere between Harry Potter and The Adamms Family, the film ends with the idea that a series of unfortunate events can actually be “the beginning of a journey,” and the resolution is neither happy nor sad. If not just for the sake of skirting clichés, or for the not-quite-laugh-outloud-but-smile-because-it’s-quirky humor, this film might provide a slight revival for those wilting pointsettias.Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.