Sorry, it’s Tulip Pneumonia
As I’ve stated before, pedigree counts for a lot in the film industry. A script by Tom Stoppard, one of the greatest living playwrights and screenwriters of our day and the mastermind behind Ronsencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead, Brazil, and Shakespeare in Love. Directed by the same man who helmed The Other Boelyn Girl. And starring Academy Award winning thespians Chritoph Waltz, Judi Dench and Alicia Vikander. How, I ask, how the hell this period piece go so horribly wrong?
Recounting the plot to this corpse is a pointless effort; but screw it, I’ll try. Alicia Vikander plays an orphan named Sophia in 17th century Amsterdam, who was raised in a convent and agrees to marry an elderly businessman named Cornelis (Christoph Waltz) to produce him an heir and have her sisters (who we never see) sent to the New World. While the marriage is pretty much loveless as Cornelis tries his best to knock Vikander’s character up, she “falls in love” (more on that in a bit) with an artist named Jan (Dan DeHaan). Meanwhile, Cornelis and Sophia’s maid Maria (Holliday Granger) does get impregnated by her lover fishmonger William (Jack O’Connor) in the middle of her beau trying to make a better life for themselves by investing in the lucrative tulip flower market. However, a series of super-contrived circumstances lead to William disappearing and Sophia being caught having an affair by her desperate maid. To save them both, Sophia concocts an elaborately stupid plan to trick Cornelis into believing she’s pregnant but actually give Maria’s baby to him instead. Oh yeah, and the fluctuating tulip market crash from 1600s occurs to satiate some history dork’s desire to see this in live action.
The plot is an insipid mess, if you couldn’t already tell. But don’t worry! It’s boring as all hell on top of that too! The pacing of this slog fest moves at a snail’s pace as you quote Monty Python screaming: “GET ON WITH IT!” Characters are introduced but never established. About twenty or so subplots are introduced and dropped in the interim dealing with extramarital affairs, the boring tulip market, a pickpocket played by Cara Delevinge (rejoining her former co-star) trying to make it up through the male-dominated options market, a fishmonger Shaghaiied into the Navy after mistaking his lover for someone else, nuns led by Judi Dench trying to play the long game in the tulip market, and a drunk played by Zack Galifianakis who was tasked with a very important plot point and fails because of his drunken nature that was established off screen. Each of these subplots poke their head in to the main melodrama of the affair and pregnancy switch, but they all barely affect the plot and are quickly forgotten about by movie’s end.
What kills me about this is that this script was written by Tom Stoppard, a legendary writer who has previously dealt with themes of existentialism in many a work. And yet, he fails miserably to develop any of his 20 or so characters in this production to an increasingly laughable degree. That affair between Sophia and Jan that is the lynchpin of this entire movie is so poorly set up that I literally cracked up watching it consumate. These two say a grand total of about 16 words to each other on screen before Jan declares “I’m in love” and drops whatever he’s doing to be with his beloved. I mean it doesn’t help Vikander and DeHaan have as much chemistry as a stapler smacking on two pieces of paper, but the script could have helped this out a tiny bit. Not helping is that the director, Justin Chadwick, was clearly given a three to four hour script and he ended up editing it down to a brisk one hour and 40 minutes, so any amount of development was probably dumped in a river to drown horribly.
The only credit I’ll pay to Chadwick is that, like The Other Boelyn Girl, he has an eye for production design. Costumes and sets look great, and even the framing of the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam’s crowded streets and pubs genuinely looks great. It’d just be nice if he could have gotten decent performances out of any of his younger actors. The veterans like Waltz and Dench do just fine with the slop they were given; Waltz, in particular, demonstrates there is no role underwritten enough for him that he can’t inject as much pathos into as possible. But Vikander and DeHaan look flat out miserable in every scene they’re in. I don’t mean they’re acting miserable, I mean they do not look like they want to be there. Their sex scenes are even less passionless than Fifty Shades Darker if you could believe that, and every “tender” moment they share is about as empty as a YA romance.
So the cast is a mess, the direction lazy, and the script is pathetic; is there anything positive for me to say besides saying the production looks nice? No, and I’m going to stop excusing that for films that don’t deserve that high of a rating. I’m truly baffled this film was allowed to see the light of the day. I dug deeper and found, to my dismay, that this film was originally shot all the way back in 2014. Then the Weinstein Company got their grubby, sexual harassment-stained hands on it, and likely edited the film down even further to tiny little ribbons. And for what? A box office of about $8 million worldwide (on a budget reportedly of $25 million) and complete ignorance of said film during the already crowded Oscar race.
Honestly, this film should have been left to die on the cutting room floor unless it was going to be used for some nefarious blackmail scheme against any of the established actors and actresses involved with this disastrous production. This film was honestly the hardest movie I tried to sit through by sheer force of trying to keep myself awake. But, the production design and Waltz’s performance save it from the absolute worst, so it’s not even fun to watch in order to diss and make fun of. This is just a miserable pimple of a movie if there ever was one. This is just…
SOME OL’ BULLSHIT