Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events review by The Grim Ringler

It’s strange to see Hollywood releasing some of the children’s films they have recently. It’s almost as if they actually think that kids aren’t idiots. Imagine that. To a degree I think we can thank one Mr. Harry Potter and his films for waking kids up to the darker side of children’s films, but heck, look at the success Willy Wonka has had over the years. I think that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood is wising up to the fact that kids like darker films. They don’t need to see ponies and lollipops all the time. Sometimes fear and terror aren’t always bad. Hell, kids can be dark and cynical too, they have to be to make some of the bands that are popular now popular (ohhh, critic makes a social comment, SNAP!). The beauty of Lemony Snicket for me though is that it was a sucker punch of a movie, and for that, I love it.

The film follows the sad, tragic events in the lives of the young Baudelaire after they are orphaned under mysterious circumstances. They had lead bright, wonderful lives with parents that encouraged the eccentric sort of genius the children displayed. When the kids were off on an adventure though something terrible and unknown happened and the family home and their parents were lost in a fire which none could figure the cause of. Orphaned, the children’s fate is left in the hands of the bank and the banker that is entrusted with their placement. It is decided that they should go to their ‘closest’ relative, though by closeness it is meant in distance and not by the way of emotional proximity, so the children are left in the care of their Dear Count Olaf (the bizarre and brilliant Jim Carrey), a strange and distant uncle they had never even heard of before. An awful actor and tyrannical megalomaniac, Count Olaf makes it known very early on that he is only interested in the money the children shall inherit and anything beyond that is just a hurdle that must be overcome. Seeing their fates with Count Olaf as nothing but a drab existence as slaves to their mad uncle’s whims, the children endeavor to escape his clutches and, after an attempt on their lives fails, they are able to free themselves from him…but not for good. No matter whom the children are placed with, a dire ending for that person lies in wait, as Olaf uses his acting background to create characters to foil the children and their chance at happiness, his greed driving him onward. At every tragedy though the children grow closer and their determination to thwart their uncle deepens. But when the children, due to another series of unfortunate events, winds up in the care of Olaf one last time it seems he might finally have the upper hand in gaining what he wants – the money the children have awaiting them, and an end to the children themselves.

The great thing about Lemony Snicket is something I am afraid a lot of people may not pick up on. What this film is, essentially, is a parody of the classic Victorian novels that used to be so popular. The kind with the sad, woeful children who face a world that is against them from birth and which they must overcome, but one that they DO overcome, with a little help from the Deus Ex Machina. The misfortunes here are so strange and surreal that it would seem hard to take this film seriously (yes Virginia, it IS a comedy), but I am afraid too many might. It is a very dark film. The kids are put through hell and at every turn something sinister is happening to them. What makes the film great though is that the children are perfect foils for the likes of Olaf as portrayed by Carrey. He is clever, but they are smart and always seem to outsmart him just as things seem their worst. Fate may be against them but the children create their own new, better fate by their own ingenuity. There is a surreal, dreamlike quality to the film and its mad uncle and put upon orphans that makes you think of the films of Tim Burton but there is a heart in this film that, unfortunately, is not in many of Burton’s films. A heart that exists because of the fine casting and wonderful acting of the children, who hold their own quite well with an over-the-top Carrey and a cast of Hollywood luminaries. Never once do you take your attention from the children and their fate, despite what madness happens in the film. Now that’s good acting.

The special effects are used well, and sparingly, and the focus, as I said, is left on the children and they serve as the point from which the film progresses and succeeds. Without their charm and intelligence, the film fails and becomes another over-acting gig on Carrey’s resume. And he is wonderful as well, focusing his most manic behavior into a character that was built for him. Always over the top but with a sinister undercurrent, a ham that really is willing to kill to have what he wants. Few actors could pull of the insane performance here, but this really was perfect for Jim Carrey, an actor known for being over the top and moderately insane. The turns by Billy Connelly and Meryl Streep are wonderful as well, but the other big stars on display is the brilliant set design and costuming, both of which create a surreal world that doesn’t seem to be set in any time but its own, and that creates an instant feel and place.

While not a film that every adult will ‘get’, I truly think this is one of the best films of the year and that kids will get a lot out of it. As smart as it is dark, kids need to see more movies that challenge them and don’t mollycoddle them. Heck, the wonder of the Victorian novel’s form was that they were morality plays that, in the end, presented a lesson, and this film is the same on that end. What you find, when all is said and done, is that no matter what happens, family and love can get you through any unfortunate event. Not too shabby for such a strange little gem of a film.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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