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Arts, Movies & TV

Movie Review: 'Tulip Fever' fails to bloom

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Thor Diakow Sep 01, 2017 3:00 am 539

Passions attempt to fly but wind up faltering in the lukewarm period drama Tulip Fever.

Based on the bestselling novel from Deborah Moggach the historical romance takes place in 17th century Amsterdam, when the Netherlands was gripped by an explosive and highly prized tulip bulb market.

Interestingly enough, this former flower mania is widely considered one of the world’s first economic bubbles. And boy did that bubble burst.

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Image: eOne Films

Academy Award-winner and forthcoming Tomb Raider reboot star Alicia Vikander plays Sophia, a young woman who was rescued from an orphanage and forced to marry the wealthy and respected Cornelis Sandvoort, portrayed by two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. After many unsuccessful and unsexy attempts – depicted through a tamely awkward montage – the pair can’t conceive a child.

But the tides of passion take an adulterous turn once artist Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan) is commissioned to paint a portrait of the couple. What begins as steamy exchanges of glances turns into a full blown affair between Sophia and Jan that leaves her pregnant. Adding to the tension, their torrid romance spills into the risky tulip business in hopes of securing a financially stable future.

Tulip Fever is a strange film. The tone is consistently all over the map and, although aiming for prestige, it merely amounts to lipstick on a pig.

Image: eOne Films

The first glaring problem is DeHaan and Vikander, though commendable actors respectively, have zero chemistry here. Most of the movie rests on the idea of their forbidden swoon-worthy passions but their shared screen time is tepid at best.

Another issue is the flick’s wonky tone. It shifts ungracefully from searing drama to plain old comic relief. The jarring comedy comes in the form of Tom Hollander’s pervy doctor character and, in a truly bizarre bit of casting, Zach Galifianakis as a bumbling drunkard. Honestly, his scenes make the movie seem like it’s a terrible Hangover sequel where the gang travels back in time.

Finally, the film constantly feels at odds with several competing storylines. As the plot moves from an interpersonal relationship study to an admittedly intriguing examination of the tulip trade the two narratives are never able to mesh cohesively.

 

Image: eOne Films

It’s not all bad though. Some impeccable costume design courtesy of Michael O’Connor provides plenty of period detail. Composer Danny Elfman also offers yet another stirring score in the music department. Even much of the acting, despite a fairly pedestrian script from Tom Stoppard and source material author Deborah Moggach, is strong.

The movie was actually filmed three years ago and stuck in release date limbo until now – not a good sign for any feature. The delay’s effect are painfully obvious after seeing the final product. The film is plagued with clunky editing that clearly paints the picture of a troubled production.

In the end, Tulip Fever tries to offer a budding romance that ultimately fails to bloom and gets 2 ½ out of 5 pieces of popcorn.

Playing in select theatres. Rated 14A and is 107 minutes long.


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Thor Diakow
Thor Diakow is a national film critic, producer for Breakfast Television Vancouver on City, and frequent contributor to Rogers Radio.

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