Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep, Emily Browning, Kara Hoffman, Liam Aiken|
|Producer:||Albie Hecht, Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes, Julia Pistor|
“This Holiday, Christmas Cheer takes a break.”
Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “This is the story of the Bauedelaires, three young orphans, Violet (Browning), Klaus (Aiken) and Sunny, looking for a new home, who are taken in by a series of odd relatives and other people, including Lemony Snicket, who narrates the film, and starting with the cunning and dastardly Count Olaf (Carrey), who hopes to snatch their inheritance from them. Violet is the oldest of the Baudelaires at 14, and is their brave and fast-thinking leader. The only boy is middle child Klaus, 12, who is intensely intelligent and obsessed with words. The youngest is infant Sunny, who speaks in a language only her siblings can understand, and she has a tendency to… bite.”
I sometimes wonder if writers and producers lie awake nights thinking up new ways to package their material, in order to keep the public confused on whether it’s “good” or “bad.” Other times, I don’t wonder; I’m certain of it.
This film is in a class by itself. I’ve researched other reviews and comments about it, both positive and negative, and I agree in principle with some points made by both sides. So I’m struggling, trying to be fair.
Since the film is based on three of the books in the Unfortunate Events series, and the first volume of that series has sold nearly 20 million copies and has been translated into 20 languages, there’s a large ready-and-waiting audience. Was it worth the wait?
In a fantasy world of dark, Gothic imagery, containing a mixture of 19th Century, 20th Century, 21st Century and purely imaginary technology, the three Baudelaire children—14 year old Violet (Emily Browning), 12 year old Klaus (Liam Aiken of “Good Boy”) and one year old Sunny (twins Kara and Shelby Hoffman)--are orphaned when a mysterious fire destroys their mansion and kills their parents. A relative, Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), becomes their guardian.
There’s no suspense in the overall plot. We know pretty much from the get-go that Olaf wants to kill the children, or do whatever else he needs to do, so he can get his grimy mitts on their fortune. And that he probably killed their parents, too.
There IS suspense within certain action scenes, such as when Olaf leaves the children locked inside a car, on the train tracks, with a train approaching. Or when Olaf suspends Sunny in a birdcage from a high tower, and threatens to drop her unless Violet marries him, which she does. Yup, you read that right. There are also snakes, leeches, rats, and a house collapsing into the ocean while the children are inside. And Olaf apparently murders the children’s Uncle Monty and their Aunt Josephine, both of whom are rivals for the guardianship. That’s a fair sampling of the frightening content. I’m sorry that it includes spoilers; but since this film is targeted at young children, parents need to know what they’re dealing with.
As far as HOW the material is presented… the PG rating is fair. Compared to the way this subject matter would be showcased in most films, it’s extremely restrained. For the most part, we’re given threatened or implied violence rather than actual, on-screen violence. But the thematic material is still there. And it consists of an exaggerated playout of many children’s worst fears. What if their parents died? Have adequate provisions been made for their welfare? If not, why not? How does anyone know that a child’s adoptive parents, foster parents or guardians will be kind and fair, will have their interests at heart and won’t take advantage of them? And if there IS a problem, and the children confide in other adults, what if no one believes them?
There’s a small amount of language; about a half-dozen profanities, including Olaf using the unusual expression “Jumped-up Jehovah.” Even the baby language of Sunny, which is translated in subtitles, includes a colorful reference or two.
The sexual content is also quite scarce, and some of it is designed to go over children’s heads. Or perhaps into their subconscious. While Olaf’s purpose for marrying Violet is the inheritance money (and the side benefit of getting her to cook and clean for him), any little girl of sufficient age should be deeply disturbed by the overtones of this idea. Also, Olaf pretends at one point to be interested in Aunt Josephine, and tosses a sly innuendo at her (again, his real interest is the money).
Where, amongst all this material, is the positive content that causes millions of kids to read these books? Actually, there’s quite a bit. The children are inventive and resourceful. They usually don’t complain about their circumstances, but just make the best of them (in one touching scene, they’re locked in a room by Olaf, and they make a tent in the middle of the room, huddle together, and find a way to cast shadows representing their parents watching over them). And they’re willing to sacrifice themselves for each other. In the world of this story, where God is not a factor and where even the “good” adults are “thick as a brick” and can’t be trusted, the children have to make their own way as best they can. Depending on how you approach it, that’s either a positive message of self-help and contentment, or a negative message of humanism.
When I was a child (I don’t remember my exact age) and saw Disney’s “Pinocchio” in the theatre, I was extremely distraught by the scene where the disobedient little boys are playing pool, smoking cigars, drinking beer and talking smart, and suddenly they (as a result of their disobedience) begin to turn into donkeys. I knew that it was only a movie, and yet it was more disturbing than most films because I closely identified with the characters and their actions. What I fear is that …“Unfortunate Events” (not just one scene, but the entire film) may have a similar effect on today’s children, and that any positive lessons will be drowned in a sea of depression and fear. This depends of course on each child’s age, maturity and background. Remember, PG means Parental Guidance. If your children are interested in this film, I strongly encourage you to research as many conservative reviews on this film as you can, and make an informed decision.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor