Saturday, December 18, 2004

Lemony Snicket Movie

Jim Carrey has a dark side that I love in movies like Eternal Sunshine and I hate in kids' movies like The Grinch and now, Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events.

And I suppose it could have nothing to do with Jim Carrey, but I suspect he has so much clout and sheer creative charisma, it's hard not to yield to his intentions, and wonder if he doesn't set the tone for any film he stars in, if not steer it off into a place that can be a little too dark if you ask me.

Sometimes I like to read a movie like a rock -- a quick hard societal surface read of it, no fine lines, just the hard shape of it -- and as I read Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events, it's about three abandoned children who become the subject of a custody feud within a family, all trying to be claimed by weirder and more dysfunctional adults every time the story twists and turns. Or should I say writhes and slithers.

I can't help wondering what we might read off the surface of this film in our times of divorce, custody battles, laissez-faire parenting. You can TOTALLY disagree with me, and argue that the thing takes place in a weird Goth fictional world, not in downtown 90210, Beverly Hills that is, but it resonates with the modern world I see all around me. The modern world of selfish parents who don't have the time or inclination to sacrifice much in the name of caring for children. As a mom of a divorced child, the movie gives me the willies big time. Have we come to this, that the new nuclear family is an abandoned girl of 12, a boy of 10 and their toddler baby sister ... what the hell is wrong here?

In the early scenes, they are drafted to be servants in their selfish (uncle?) Count Olaf's (Jim Carrey) kitchen which is filthy and disgusting beyond all imagining and once they manage to clean this up, they are expected to cook dinner with no food, no pans, no provisions whatsoever. There is something so cruel and creepy about the whole thing. They slave away while Olaf and his acting troupe are rehearsing a play in the parlor.

Scene after scene is about one more hapless relativethan the last inheriting the three children after one harrowing event or another, with Olaf stalking them to re-gain custody, his only interest being their large fortune. Fun eh? A movie where even the sweet-faced Meryl Streep plays a selfish weirdo auntie who's as dysfunctional and selfish as the rest of the adult relatives begins to get to you. She's such an agoraphobic freak show, she has a quasi-nervous breakdown when realtors come to the door -- which is rather amusing as a schtick -- but this non-stop parade of nasty, selfish, incompetetent adults wreaking havoc on the lives of these innocent children is not amusing, but sick if you take it at face value.

And I suppose one would argue -- it's fiction, it's a joke, it's supposed to be amusing -- and you shouldn't take it at face value, but sorry, I feel a heat and a perfume and tone off of all movies that is unmistakeable and speaks to the time in which they are made, the culture that makes them, the people who create them. And this one has a dark sadness I don't like and feel sorry I experienced.