Candy-colored, unrepentantly goofy, and art-designed like the inside of a Faberge egg, Mirror Mirror is almost incomprehensibly different from its supposed upcoming rival, Snow White and the Huntsman, and that's only a good thing. While this summer's Kristen Stewart-starring action-adventure puts on its most serious face to update the Snow White fairy tale, Mirror Mirror is happy to romp around inside it with its own out-there agenda, with sly humor and old-fashioned ideals that both somehow complement this winning comedy.
This sometimes manic and very straightforward film won't be for everyone, but it does have a surprisingly broad appeal, with clever script from Melissa Wallack and Jason Keller and energetic direction from Tarsem Singh, who leans heavily on his customary impressive visuals but also respects his script and actors enough to let the story take over. Though it does have a neat feminist twist near the end, and adds a few goofy setpieces to the traditional story, Mirror Mirror really is straight-up Snow White, opening when the Wicked Queen (Julia Roberts) has successfully killed off the King and left his daughter Snow (Lily Collins) to molder in the castle, lest the villagers start thinking Snow ought to be the ruler. The Queen has her talking magical mirror, of course, but her envy of Snow really kicks up when Snow encounters a Prince from a nearby land (Armie Hammer) and they fall for each other, putting a wrench into the Queen's plans to marry him.
Snow is taken into the forest for execution not by a huntsman by the Queen's foppish servant (Nathan Lane), but she does team up with the dwarves, who are played by little-known dwarf actors who all make a remarkably strong impression. There's silliness happening both in the forest and back in the castle, as Snow trains as a bandit with her new dwarf companions, all while the Queen schemes to keep the Prince in line by drugging him with a "puppy love" potion that gives him the personality of an actual puppy. It all leads to a confrontation with the Queen, though appropriate enough for this bright and shiny film, it's not on the battlefield but at two different weddings-- both of them showing off stunning costumes from the late Eiko Ishioka, whose work alone is reason to see the film.
There's not a lot of narrative complexity in Mirror, Mirror, no sense of surprise in how the story unfolds, and its manic tone can make it feel a good bit longer than its 95 minutes. But every time you think its energy flags, the script pulls out an especially well-timed joke, or an especially lavish costume appears, or God love him, Armie Hammer starts acting like a puppy and gobsmacks you with his commitment. His cut-loose performance is the real highlight, proving even more range for the actor who became a star playing his own twin in The Social Network, and he brings out the best in Julia Roberts too, who takes relish in her wicked role but could have gone even further with it. And in her own breakout role as the famous princess, Lily Collins nails the sugary-sweet side of the character, but doesn't have much fire to balance it out. With her doll-smooth skin and already trademark eyebrows, though, she's got potential-- it just would have been nice to see more of it on her first go-round.
In a time when everyone wants us to take our myths seriously, whether Tarsem's own Immortals or the whole fleet of superheroes, it's a pleasure to see a movie that doesn't just have fun with a fairy tale, but is so wild and confident in its garishness that it creates something truly new.