LEMONY SNICKET’S A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS
**** (out of 5)
December 17, 2004
Jim Carrey as COUNT OLAF
Meryl Streep as AUNT JOSEPHINE
Jude Law as LEMONY SNICKET
Emily Browning as VIOLET BAUDELAIRE
Liam Aiken as KLAUS BAUDELAIRE
Kara and Shelby Hoffman as SUNNY BAUDELAIRE
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Directed by: Brad Silberling
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I’ve never read the Lemony Snicket books.
I hate to admit this, but I’ve started a lot of reviews this year like this. And while I’ve been an avid reader most of my life, I’ve learned that there are a lot of books being made into movies now that I haven’t read. So, take my words with a grain of salt, people. ‘Cause even though I consider myself well-read, it’s not panning out that way in the world of books-turned-movies recently.
Anyway, now that I’ve got that off my chest, back to Lemony Snicket…
Even though I’m what you’d consider a generally happy person, I am intrigued by the dark side. This is probably why I felt a special something for “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” This film is endlessly dark and gloomy for a kids story. But somehow, it works. It works the way that all the death and despair in the Harry Potter books and movies works.
What really makes this film shine is the characters, brought to life by some very talented young people. The kids in this movie are rather extraordinary people, but they give you the impression that they are exceedingly normal. While Klaus Baudelaire (Liam Aiken) remembers everything he reads and Violet Baudelaire (Emily Browning) is a genius inventor, they project a familiarity about them.
There are some problems with the film, of course. For example, while Jim Carrey overall does a great job as the villainous Count Olaf, he’s always a dangerous addition if you don’t know how to handle him.
If you read the trade rags about the making of this film, everyone’s giving kudos to Carrey and his brilliant improvisational skills in this film. Much of this is dolled out by the other actors. But one of the few problems I had with “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” was that it became annoying to see Jim Carrey improvise.
While he mostly nailed the role of Count Olaf, Carrey could not resist doing his own funny thing, and these scenes stuck out. Basically, Carrey’s style of humor is not the same as the macabre cynicism of the Lemony Snicket stories. It reminded me of Carrey as The Grinch. I had fond memories of the old Grinch cartoon, and its origins in Dr. Suess’s books. However, I found myself mostly annoyed when Carrey tried to improve the character in that film.
The only other really annoying point I found was Sunny the 2-year-old biter and her baby talk. The baby talk itself was not the problem. It was the silly subtitles that translated her words for the audience. And it wasn’t even the use of subtitles that bothered me, but rather the ridiculous translations, which seemed like a dim afterthought by the director. Like much of Carrey’s antics, these subtitles were shockingly out of style for the darkly mischievous film. Lines like “She’s the mayor of crazy town” just don’t work with the flavor of the movie.
There are some hot and cold cameos in this film. While the recently overly overexposed Jude Law is an excellent choice as Lemony Snicket, the faithful narrator, an appearance by Cedric the Entertainer just didn’t seem to make sense in the gothic feel of the film.
Perhaps one of the more brilliant aspects of this film is the dark and creepy production design. Not since Tim Burton’s films in the late 80s and early 90s have I seen production design that makes things look simultaneously eerie and nostalgic. Too often in films, the design leans more towards a Nine Inch Nails music video. This film feels like an extension of the bizarre opening to the old PBS series “Mystery.”
Parents might misinterpret the darkness of this film to be inappropriate for children. After all, with characters being burned alive in fires, eaten by carnivorous leeches and a psychotic count trying to knock off three kids, this sounds more like a Stephen King novel rather than a family holiday movie. But there’s something about death and despair that interest kids. Even in the midst of these perils, like the classic Roald Dahl stories, the kids are the strongest characters and demonstrate strength by facing their problems up front.