Breathe a sigh of relief, Labor Day! We have a new frontrunner for Worst Film of the Year!
Oh, how to explain the many ways that Winter’s Tale goes wrong, except to say . . .every way?
It’s based on a book (that I confess to have never read), and succumbs to every possible pitfall of adapting a novel: It feels plodding and episodic. There’s an overly pedantic voiceover explaining its spiritual “themes.” Character backgrounds and motivations are murky. Seemingly significant characters show up for one scene, then disappear.
Here’s what I could make of the plot: A thief (a raven-haired Colin Farrell, looking a lot more like Snapes than anyone could’ve possibly intended) runs afoul of a crime boss (Russell Crowe) who is also a henchman for the devil. (I’d tell you who plays the devil in this film, but I’ll let you stumble across that howler on your own.)
The thief is rescued by a mystical white horse—alternately called a dog because…well . . .er. . .it must be explained in the book—and falls in love with a beautiful red-headed woman who’s dying of consumption. (She’s played by Downton Abbey’s milky-skinned Jessica Brown Findlay and any resemblance to Kate Winslet, circa her Titanic years, is strictly intentional). Is she his destiny? His reason for living? According to the film’s mythology, we are each given a singular miracle in this life; the key is to find our miracle.
There is also a lot—and I mean a lot—of talk about light and constellations and twinkly things and fire and how good people turn into stars when they die. (To summarize: Light good! Dark bad!)
Toward the end of the film, Jennifer Connolly shows up as a mother of a sick child—and we’re supposed to suddenly care desperately about both her and the child, simply because the filmmakers want us to.
Although Winter's Tale takes place in NY, everyone speaks with a different accent. (Hey, it’s magical realism. There are no rules!)
What are all these good actors doing here? Did they do this film as a favor to director Akiva Goldsman, the acclaimed screenwriter behind A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man? Crowe, for example, is essentially playing a supernatural version of Inspector Javert, his character in Les Misérables. (Now on Crowe’s resume: Special skills: Accents, stage fighting, tirelessly hunting all corners of the earth for mortal enemies.)
Look, a tiny part of me has to give props to Goldsman for at least attempting something in the magical realism realm. We don’t see a lot of that in Hollywood, partly because most of us are too cynical to enjoy it, but also because magical realism is hard. If you’re going to do it, you need a confident director with a bold vision. Winter’s Tale takes a literal-minded approach to fantastical material. It has no sense of magic or enchantment or menace. Hell, it barely even has a sense of romance. As Valentine’s Day gifts go, it’s a greeting card from a second-rate New Age bookstore.