wasn't the only awful star-crossed romance
that screened after WW
's press deadline. Winter's Tale
is just as bad, also just in time for Valentine's Day.
Critic's Grade: D+
It’s no secret that the first few months of the moviegoing year are a wasteland. Studios typically use January and February as a dumping ground for their schlockiest offerings, hopeful that the dearth of viable alternatives will lure unsuspecting rubes into the multiplex for the latest exorcism movie. This time of year is also somewhat refreshing, however, as it’s one of few points in the cinematic calendar when the majority of new releases haven’t been preordained as either blockbusters or award-winners. For the most part, they’re just movies—often quite bad ones, yes, but occasionally something of merit slips through.
Winter’s Tale isn’t one of those exceptions. A supernatural romance set in both 1916 and the present day, it charts the star-crossed romance between charming thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) and terminally ill ingénue Beverly Penn (Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay). Their meet-cute is as contrived as they come: Peter’s trying to rob her house while fleeing from his former mentor (Russell Crowe, a vindictive demon whose entire time-spanning purpose is to make Peter miserable) but is so thrown off by her sprightly demeanor in the face of tuberculosis that he abandons his plans and accepts her offer of a cup of tea. They instantly fall in love. Because of course.
Akiva Goldsman’s adaptation of Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel also features a flying horse that’s actually a dog, a stunt-cast Lucifer (if I told you who plays him, you wouldn’t believe me), a star-filled vision of the afterlife, and other confusing supernatural esoterica that’s never as sublime as it wants to be. It’s all quite heartfelt and earnest, but so intent on constantly reinforcing a simplistic, it's-all-connected message that any potential for nuance has evaporated by the end of Beverly's opening narration.
The fact that the film is set in two different centuries and that one of the lovers is already at death’s door in the earlier era should give you a clue of the narrative trajectory. (Stop reading if you don’t like spoilers.) Once the inevitable occurs, everything that follows is meant to amplify the meaning of the couple’s experiences, but the events fail to live up to the emotional resonance that Farrell and especially Findlay occasionally manage to squeeze out of Goldsman’s overwrought script. You keep waiting for things to link together in a way that's at least viscerally satisfying (if illogical), but they rarely do.
That almost none of this makes real-world sense isn't a problem. What is a problem is that much of it isn’t consistent with its own internal logic. Goldsman’s half-hearted attempts at explaining his source material’s vague mythos and building a believable world almost completely fall flat; once Peter realizes his destiny is to save the life of a cancer-stricken girl for reasons that never prove persuasive, Winter’s Tale has passed a threshold from which not even Pegasus can bring it back.