Chillin’ with the villain
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
As with the Harry Potter films, I hadn’t read a word of the Lemony Snicket children’s book series before seeing its big-screen adaptation. I’ve still got Russell Banks’ big, bastard book Cloudsplitter and a couple of Neil Gaiman novels to get through before moving on to those bestsellers. So the following review comes from a bloke who isn’t familiar with the literary world of Count Olaf and the Baudelaire children.
The film begins with a warning that the movie is extremely unpleasant, and those looking for a happy story might wish to visit another theater. Word on the street is that the film isn’t nearly as unpleasant as the books. Some reviewers have trashed Jim Carrey’s portrayal of Olaf as typical, manic Carrey showboating. This movie is substantially nasty for a children’s film, and Carrey’s comical clowning makes Olaf all the more evil, creepy and fun. Those who haven’t read the books might wind up having a better time.
The Baudelaire children are Violet (Emily Browning), an ingenious inventor; Klaus (Liam Aiken), a curious bookworm; and Sunny (Kara and Shelby Hoffman), an intelligent toddler who likes to bite things. They discover in the film’s opening minutes that their parents have perished in a deadly house fire, and that they must go live with their geographically closest relative, Count Olaf.
Olaf has plans to kill the children and collect their inheritance. His parenting methodologies include leaving the kids parked on a train track, dropping them from extreme heights, and, in the case of Violet, marrying her against her will. In other words, Olaf is no Mary Poppins, so if you’re looking for a fun, spiritually enlightening day with the kids, thou must proceed with caution.
Obviously, this is tricky material, but Carrey and company pull it off with demented style. The Olaf character is an aspiring actor, providing Carrey with plenty of comic material to take on and alter egos to portray. The clowning opportunities are countered with a nice helping of nastiness, which Carrey plays well, making Olaf the most offbeat and strange of villains. I was surprised to see such a despicable character in a kids’ film.
The movie looks similar to this year’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, sporting a washed-out gothic approach. The dark look fits the film’s tone, and the closing credits feature cartoons that pay homage to books’ drawings.
Supporting cast includes Billy Connolly, as a sweetheart uncle who loves reptiles, and Meryl Streep, as a phobic aunt who lives in a house that teeters over a steep cliff. There are a few surprise cameos, with an especially big one near film’s end.
Director Brad Silberling turns out to be an excellent choice to direct this material. His Moonlight Mile was an offbeat mixture of humor and tragedy, as is this film. While the movies feature tremendously different worlds, both manage a nice balance of humor and dreariness. Silberling is proving himself an expert at drawing laughter out of morbid and sad situations.
There have been 11 Lemony Snicket books thus far, and the series will allegedly stop at 13. The film has left me intrigued, so I might pick up one or two books before the next installment, if there is one. Carrey and Silberling deserve a lot of credit because getting laughs with your movie is a tough task, but getting laughs in a kids’ movie shortly after a main character is eaten by leeches is monumentally impressive.