With Christmas upon us, and no Harry Potter film at the flicks, the festive tinsel-decorated-family-movie-baton has been passed onto another children’s book adaptation, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
If you’re not au fait with the kiddies’ books, here’s a quick heads up. Written by Lemony Snicket (the semi-alias of San Franciscan writer Daniel Handler), the 11 books (out of an intended 13) follow the unfortunate events’ that befall the Baudelaire children. This film is an amalgamation of the first three books (The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room and The Wide Window), which, on occasion, lets down the plot.
The film commences in a wonderfully original manner with a happy cartoon elf. The narrator, Lemony Snicket (played by Jude Law) – who’s only ever seen in profile (which is no bad thing considering Jude’s already graced us with Alfie, and I Heart Huckabees this year) – interrupts to advise the audience that the film is not a happy one: it’s unpleasant. He’s right, though of course it’s chucklesome too, albeit in a rather dark way.
It all kicks off with the children becoming orphans, their parents having died in a mysterious fire – unfortunate indeed. Fourteen-year-old Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken) and baby sister Sunny are therefore sent to live with a distant relative, the villainous, mono-browed Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). Again, not too lucky.
It soon becomes apparent Count Olaf will do anything to get his mitts on the children’s inheritance, from locking them in a car on a level crossing as the train is hurtling towards them, to pushing a secondary relative into a sea filled with killer eels (The Princess Bride, anyone?) to regain his position as their guardian. The children, however, are resourceful.
Violet is an inventor/ problem solver, Klaus a bookworm who retains everything he’s read and Sunny has a talent for biting. Despite their ingenuity, their fate continually lies with adults who disregard the children’s allegations about Count Olaf which leads to many pantomime-like moments – especially when the malevolent Olaf is in disguise.
Indeed, for many people, the fact that top billing has gone to Jim Carrey will either have them cooing with Carreyitis or giving the cinema a wide berth. One thing is certain: Carrey is brilliant – though on occasion OTT – as Count Olaf, his comedy acting back to its prime after his last Christmas box office turkey The Grinch.
However, it is not Jim Carrey who steals the show, nor Meryl Streep as the neurotic Aunt Josephine nor Billy Connolly as the kind-hearted reptile-loving Uncle Monty. Ditto Emily Browning and Liam Aiken, despite being excellent (take note ye Harry Potter actors). No, it’s Sunny, played by twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman. Their reaction shots are comedic, whilst Sunny’s baby talk is subtitled into many of the film’s best lines.
Despite all this, the most amazing thing about Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is its ambience: a sort of Victorian gothic intermingled with modern technology, Tim Burton-esque stylised visuals and fantastic sets. From the start, you are mesmerized.
Undoubtedly, there will be many die-hard Lemony Snicket fans who will dislike the film. But, as family entertainment, it’s great fun, and people with a natural aversion to Carrey in full blown comedy mode should not be put off.