Friday, February 14, 2014

Endless Love: WINTER'S TALE

Winter’s Tale is a movie that’s big, open, and earnestly sentimental in a way that films rarely are. It’s also so very bad that it’s enough to make you wish movies were big, open, and earnestly sentimental a little less. Based on a novel by Mark Helprin, it is written, directed, and produced as a passion project by screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who in his career has had a hand in glossy studio schlock of one kind (A Beautiful Mind) or another (Batman & Robin). Here he brings all the tools of industry to a film that’s nothing more than self-satisfied hogwash, supremely dopey in its story about a scrappy New York thief (Colin Farrell) who falls in love with a beautifully sickly girl (Jessica Brown Findlay) and has an enemy in a demon (Russell Crowe) who petitions Lucifer (Will Smith) to let him squash the couple. Or something like that. As the drippy voice over that starts and ends this mess says, the story postulates that the universe bends over backwards to help each and every person fulfill their Destiny, find True Love, perform Miracles, and other types of capital-letter cornball metaphysical hooey.

Yes, you read that right. It says every person gets to experience this, but, the film stipulates, only the very luckiest among us get the chance to glimpse our lives’ patterns in their fullest and most twinkling expression. In this case, Farrell loves Findlay so intensely that after she dies the bounds of mortality are slipped free, but only for him. He wanders New York City for 100 years with no memory of his past , waiting for his True Purpose to be reawakened, and to perform his one great miracle and be turned into a star and placed in the heavens forever next to his beloved. We don’t get to see more than a time-lapse montage of the skyline changing to signify the passing of years. One minute it’s 1915 or thereabouts, then here we are in 2014 and a memory-less Farrell spends his days drawing with chalk in public spaces and bumps into Jennifer Connelly and, later, Eva Marie Saint. It’s all for a Reason. It’s all trembling with Importance. It’s all so very satisfied in its coincidences and insistence that everything happens for a reason. I don’t know. I think I’d rather life be cold, empty, and meaningless than have it mean any of this.

Oh, and did I mention that there’s a magical horse that appears and helps Farrell out of a jam now and again, sprouts ethereal wings whenever convenient, and might be an earthly manifestation of the Pegasus constellation? It’s the kind of movie so convolutedly confusing in its inanities that to describe it makes one seem to be devolving into a raging lunatic. On the one hand it’s dealing with complicated and almost entirely unexplained fantasy rules of treaties between angels and demons and Crowe has to ask Will Smith’s goofily creepy Devil to bend the rules and stop a miracle in progress or something. On the other hand, the whole thing is motivated by a kind of pseudo-spiritual romantic martyrdom so feverish and swooning that it’d probably make Nicholas Sparks cringe. It starts with Farrell entering the life of the girl who grows more beautiful as she nears her death from consumption as her worried father (William Hurt) frets. It ends with a child dying of cancer as Connelly worries close by. Consumption and cancer makes for quite a heavy pairing to be treated so twinklingly in a film that shoots for magical realism and arrives somewhere much closer to magical thinking.

Confused in the details and dunderheaded in the grand sweep, Winter’s Tale is a misfire on all levels. Cinematographer Caleb Deschanel somehow manages to make every shot look like it’s taking place inside a knockoff Thomas Kinkade painting, too-perfect snow and glowing hearths underneath a lens flaring night sky. The screenplay is stuffed with syrupy hippie dippie dialogue that’s at once overwritten and overtly simple. No prop – be it a bed, a flower, a plaque, a drawing – goes without immediate transformation into broad Symbolic Importance. It all works to anesthetize a cast of usually compelling performers. It might’ve been easier to take if even one relationship was something more than irredeemably unbelievable. It’s not easy to make William Hurt, Eva Marie Saint, Jennifer Connelly, Will Smith, Jessica Brown Findlay, Russell Crowe, and Colin Farrell all complete nothings, communicating not a single moment of emotion or interest amongst them. With an ensemble like that, you could and should be well on your way to a terrific movie. Instead, in its endless slog through soggy sentimentality, self-important stupidity, and blatantly thematically schematic design, it grows interminable. It can’t even scrape up some unfortunate campiness. It’s just awful through and through. 

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