"If you're interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle. This is because not very many happy things happened in the lives of the three Baudelaire youngsters. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire were intelligent children, and they were charming and resourceful, and had pleasant facial features, but they were extremely unlucky, and most everything that happened to them was rife with misfortune, misery and despair. I'm sorry to tell you this, but that is how the story goes." - from the first paragraph of "A Series Of Unfortunate Events Vol 1: The Bad Beginning"
The movie opens with a writer narrating the quote above. And funny as it seems at first, it's no joke. The three siblings Violet the inventor, Klaus the memoriser of books and Sunny the sharp toothed toddler have the worst luck in the world, and after their parents die when their house burns down, much of their horrendous luck involves falling into the cruel hands of Count Olaf, who poses as a relative because he wants to kill them and steal their inheritance.
It's cruel, it's weird. It's a wonderful basis for a movie.
This movie about children and childhood comes from way, way out of left field. It begins with the children's parents dying and them being shipped off to a relative they've never even heard of. Count Olaf (Jim Carrey) lives in a filthy mansion and wants to kill them and take all their money. And from there, things only get worse.
Unfortunately the film that emerges after going through the industry meat grinder doesn't work as well as it could.
Although "Lemony Snicket" is wonderfully strange, it's damaged by the latest and not the greatest Hollywood cliches. The children are all American - although attired and written as British. Bizarrely, their nasty, incompetent, overweight or pathologically insane relatives are mostly British. And Jim Carrey, rather than making the movie work is actually distracting, despite his unarguable talent for playing the evil funnyman. Just as you're beginning to be absorbed by the story he barges in, his every eye twitch screaming noisily "Look at me, Ma! I'm Jim Carrey!" Carrey makes himself not just an impostor in the children's lives but in the movie too. He's rapidly becoming the Zoolander of comedy, only with 10 famous trademark expressions instead of three.
These mistakes are all the more frustrating because the world of "Lemony Snicket" is so fascinating. The text of the novels wraps the film, appearing at the beginning and the end as narrated interludes (Jim Carrey does this adequately, playing a storyteller with an old typewriter in dusty attic light profile) and is genuinely funny.
"Lemony Snicket" also keeps you amused with some horribly funny moments and creates the kind of dramatic tension that has you writhing in your seat, silently mouthing "don't do it" or "oh please, look behind you" or "oh God just listen to that child."
The cinematography is gothic and the world in "A Series of Unfortunate Events" is grey washed, damp and lit like a bad dream.
Parents will want to know whether or not to take the kids. Well to some extent, that depends on the child, but my gut tells me this is mostly a movie for adults about childhood.
The most disturbing thing about "Lemony Snicket" is the way it reminds you how lonely and terrible it felt like to be young, small and powerless and therefore obliged to accept the judgement of adults, even when they were obviously wrong or incredibly stupid.
But this is also the most rewarding thing about the movie. The relationship between the three children is one of hope, bravery and loyalty throughout their trials. Within their relationship is the message that even tragedy can't destroy you if you are with people who make any place feel like home. It makes the phrase "as long as we have each other..." really mean something. And it's a better and more touching portrait of real family values than most.
- Jean Barker
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