Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

12 Apr

A-Series-of-Unfortunate-Events-2004-a-series-of-unfortunate-events-20504480-1706-960

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” is based on a series of children’s books with warnings on the back saying not to read them because they are very depressing and disturbing. But of course, who could resist a warning like that? The movie, adapted from the first three books, opens with such a warning. It opens as a cartoon elf skips along its garden as flowers bloom (as a cheesy song plays) and it stops suddenly, so the film’s narrator, who is Lemony Snicket (voiced by Jude Law), states that the movie that will be shown, instead of this happy-go-lucky cartoon, is a dark and depressing tale about three orphaned children and a villainous actor. Snicket warns us to stop watching the film, but how can we not? The warnings on the back of the books and at the beginning of this film are incredible buildup.

The focuses of the story are the three Baudelaire children with different hobbies—one’s an inventor, one’s a reader, and one’s an odd biter. Despite these different traits, they have each other. One day when they are by the river near their mansion, they are met by Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), the overweight and clueless manager of their estate, who grieves to inform them that a fire has destroyed their mansion…and killed their parents.

The children—the eldest inventor Violet (Emily Browning), her intelligent brother Klaus (Liam Aiken), and their toddler (“biting”) sister Sunny (Kara and Shelly Hoffman)—are left in the custody of their fourth cousin three times removed (or is he their third cousin four times removed)—an hamming, creepy actor who goes by the name Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). Count Olaf lives in a big, creepy mansion, shows no love for the children, and makes them do terrible chores all day. He desperately wants the family fortune and attempts to kill the kids for it, leaving the car stopped on the railroad tracks with them locked inside of it. The kids survive by using their wits and traits, but that’s only the beginning.

Before I go any further, let me warn you about Jim Carrey’s performance as Count Olaf. He overacts in this movie and he barely gets away with being a distraction to the kids, who are really the main focus of the film and are very smart and likable. However, I can say that most of his shtick is quite entertaining, especially when he shows that the character is such a bad actor. But when he delivers a few pop culture references in a movie that seems to be set in the early 1900s and when his “Ace Ventura” side takes over in a few scenes, it’s mostly distracting. But let me be fair and say this—this is the role that Jim Carrey was born to play.

After Olaf fails to kill the children, the kids are sent by Mr. Poe, who doesn’t see the act as a sign of attempted murder but as irresponsibility, to live with other relatives. But as they get comfortable in their new homes, Count Olaf arrives in disguise to try and take the children back. First they are sent to their friendly Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), who has a bizarre obsession with snakes and weirdly unknown creatures. Uncle Monty knows what family is all about and wants to really relate to the children.

Then there’s Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), a paranoid, neurotic woman who is afraid of…pretty much everything. She lives alone in a house dangerously perched on the edge of a cliff over a leech-infested lake. (How could she not be afraid?)

Both of these relatives have a secret that the kids would like to know more about. All they have to go on is a spyglass. As they go from relative-to-relative, they find out more about it. However with Count Olaf coming along, overacting, and ruining everything from Monty to Josephine, it’s just more than these children can bear, to say the least. But when Count Olaf is around those times, Mr. Poe is such an idiot that he doesn’t see under his disguises. He simply dismisses the kids as imaginative half-pints.

“Lemony Snicket” keeps the darkness of the books. The kids have moments where they grieve over their parents’ deaths, the “unfortunate events” they run into are life-threatening (though almost predictably, they use their wits to survive), and their surroundings are rarely sunny. Count Olaf follows them everywhere they go and all he wants is their fortune and nothing else, even if it of course means killing them.

The kids are a fresh and likable bunch. Violet, played by Australian actress Emily Browning, is a bright 14-year-old girl who invents things frequently and knows that there is always something to make something out of. Klaus, played by Liam Aiken, is a smart young man who remembers everything he reads. Sunny, played by two-year-old twins Kara and Shelly Hoffman, bites and does nothing else except babble unintelligible words that are some of the funniest lines in the movie (English subtitles show what she says). The movie wants us to follow these kids and to root for them to outsmart their wicked relative. The actors playing the kids are a wonderful group and they really keep the movie going.

I’d say the main problem with “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” is that it’s not so much a series of unfortunate events as it the same unfortunate event repeated, as the kids are passed around from relative to relative as they know Count Olaf is close by to mess things up again, and they use their wits to get out of a tricky situation every time. And there’s also a nasty, creepy addition near the end in which Olaf threatens to make things worse unless Violet agrees to marry him so he can inherit the Baudelaire fortune. I’d say to see what Roald Dahl would have done if he wrote the books this movie was based on.

While there are certainly dark currents under the surface of this fantasy, the director Brad Silberling doesn’t let them overtake the film. Yes, bad things happen—people die and children are in jeopardy. But there’s a dry wit that balances out and also a sense of fun in how the kids use their abilities to discover a new way to survive whatever comes next. “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” is a strange, dark film, and I recommend it for being just that.

Advertisements

One Response to “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004) | 100 Films in a Year - June 29, 2016

    […] What the Public Say “While there are certainly dark currents under the surface of this fantasy, the director Brad Silberling doesn’t let them overtake the film. Yes, bad things happen—people die and children are in jeopardy. But there’s a dry wit that balances out and also a sense of fun in how the kids use their abilities to discover a new way to survive whatever comes next. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is a strange, dark film, and I recommend it for being just that.” — Tanner Smith, Smith’s Verdict […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: