It seems fitting that the studios dump all their less successful projects at the height of awards seasons. Compared to the films up for Oscars, movies like Winter's Tale remind us just how bad movies can really be. Normally, I have some affection for bad movies, but this time let me tell you—life is too short. Watch a perfume ad and move on.
Winter's Tale claims to be a story about true love, so naturally it focuses on (literally) star-crossed lovers who have just met. (Warning: I'm going to explain the whole story, regardless of spoilers because I don't think you should pay see it.) Beverly Penn (Jessica Browne Findlay) is a beautiful, wealthy, angelic twenty-one year-old who is dying of Consumption. As she nears her death, her body is becoming so hot that she sleeps in a tent on the roof to keep her temperature down. One day, Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), is trying to rob her house when they meet and immediately fall in love. But wait, Peter is being hunted by his boss, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), a demon who is trying to prevent miracles and, in addition to a personal vendetta, wants to keep the miracle of Bev and Peter's love from happening. Peter wants to "steal a life," hoping that he can love Bev enough to keep her from dying because she's his fate. That doesn't work. Turns out his fate is to have her love keep him alive for one hundred years after her death so he can save an unrelated little girl who is dying of cancer, because no life is worth more than any other and the universe will bend over backward for each of us individually. Lovely sentiment, but what? There's also a flying horse who repeatedly saves Peter's life and Will Smith plays the devil.
In some ways, Winter's Tale reminded me of Neil Gaiman's Stardust, but it's a bad, bad movie. While Stardust and other fairytales usually take the time to create a world within which the conflicts, characters, and magic make sense, Winter's Tale just moves from plot point to plot point with little development or explanation. Oh, a flying white horse saves the day! Why not? Oh, Bev's love keeps Peter alive. How? Who cares. It's love. I'm assuming that the story makes more sense and has more depth in the novel, but in terms of adaptation and filmmaking this is incredibly lazy work.
Winter's Tale does have some pretty moments. It's a visually beautiful film that plays with light and color, but in a hamfisted way. I couldn't really enjoy the artistically satisfying moments without feeling reminded of the absurd and ill-supported plot. But the moments were there, for what they're worth. Also, Farrell and Browne Findlay have some lovely chemistry and it was nice, I suppose, to see them smile at each other for a few minutes. Perhaps the most positive aspect of the experience, for me, was the way Farrell rose in my estimation. I have always thought of him as a pretty bad actor, relying on sex appeal for roles. In this film, he does a good job with stupid material. Plus, compared to Russell Crowe's terrible accent and general overacting, Farrell looks like a genius.
With its Valentine's Day opening, I could possibly forgive the film for its saccharine qualities. It is overly-sentimental, sure, but its real crime is being far too simple. Hollywood routinely paints love as less complicated than it really is, but Winter's Tale doesn't even bother with character development. The reason for everything is simply, in internet-speak, because love. I might have been willing to take some leaps with the story and suspend my disbelief a little if the narrative had given me any real reason to invest in the characters and their relationships. I don't think I'm being overly-cynical in rating Winter's Tale 1/5 stars.
Winter's Tale was written and directed by Akiva Goldsman, based on the novel by Mark Helprin. It runs 118 minutes (of my life that I will never get back) and is rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality.