I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of “magic realism”
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Thank you, Winter’s Tale movie — aka A New York Winter’s Tale in the U.K. in order that, I suspect, it not be confused with Shakespeare, which was never going to happen — for confirming what I’ve always felt about the weasel phrase “magic realism”: that it is a feeble, lazy attempt to dress up in literary pretensions an inability to fully commit to fantasy. This might not be true of the Mark Helprin novel this is based on; I haven’t read it and can’t comment in that direction. But it most certainly true of Akiva Goldsman’s leaden, charmless adaptation, which appears to believe that it can get away with making not one lick of sense at all, because Magic Realism.
I mean, look: A baby set adrift far out in New York harbor in 1895 makes it to land and survives. I could maybe buy this. I can’t buy that 20 years later, in 1915, he has aged almost 40 years and speaks with an Irish accent and is Colin Farrell (Saving Mr. Banks, Epic). (How implausible is this film? Even Farrell’s own actual Irish accent sounds fake.) I mean, Farrell is a good-looking guy and all, but he cannot pass for 20 years old. Nor even 30. The accent is, I suspect, meant to be explained by the baby’s having been found and raised by Russell Crowe’s (Man of Steel, Broken City) demonic gangster, which wouldn’t even make sense if Crowe’s Irish accent weren’t as atrocious as it is. Anyway, in 1915, a beautiful white pegasus rescues Farrell as he is about to be killed by Crowe and his henchmen, because Crowe is majorly pissed off at Farrell for no reason that is ever shared with us. Again: I might could buy that Crowe is a demon, just because, but even a demon needs a reason to be angry at one particular person, otherwise he’d be this pissed off at everyone all the time. Right? And he isn’t.
The flying horse is pretty much bullshit, though. Mostly because no one else can see Colin Farrell flying around Manhattan on a white steed? Either people are blind, or they’re so jaded that Colin Farrell on a white steed a hundred feet above Fifth Avenue is an everyday occurrence. Either concept has fantasy potential. Neither concept is broached. It’s just magic and no one cares. Because. Okay?
Something about destiny, and then Farrell is breaking into a mansion along Central Park — he’s a thief, which makes this probably the most plausible thing that happens in the movie. Inside is a young woman (Jessica Brown Findlay) who is dying — beautifully, oh my goodness, so beautifully — of consumption, which in this universe also comes with a fever so feverish that she has to sleep outside in the winter air in order to keep herself from burning up. This allows Goldsman — who didn’t just write the screenplay but directed, too — to do up a sort of Gilded Age J. Peterman outdoor sleeping chamber on the roof of a Central Park mansion. Isn’t it terribly romantic? No, it isn’t.
They fall in love, of course, which also isn’t romantic, though the movie desperately hopes we will see it as such without bothering in the least to attempt to make us feel it. Nothing here goes beyond the merest suggestion of what it’s supposed to be, if it even goes that far. Need some big bad evil? Boom! Here’s Will Smith (Men in Black III, Seven Pounds) as Lucifer in a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. In 1915. Because. Need someone to make us go awwwww? Boom! Here’s a little girl dying of cancer. That is the extent of her characterization: she is cute and little and dying of cancer. Oh, and she has red hair. The red hair will be Important.
This isn’t even a load of blarney, because that would imply that there’s even a little something bewitching to be found here.
I haven’t even broached the magical-because-why-not fact that Farrell ends up living for a century in New York without aging, and without even remembering his name, and without even having to deal with landlords who want to kick him out of cheap rent-controlled apartments, because he lives above the ceiling in Grand Central Terminal. (Now there’s an NYC fantasy for ya: Dude lives for a century at one address and is paying only $13 a month in rent, thanks to rent control.)
The sad thing — which we can appreciate now with awful hindsight — is that everything Goldsman has done in the past has been building to this. This is his first feature film as director, but oh, the scripts he has written! The incoherence of Batman and Robin, the sentimental tripe of A Beautiful Mind, the travesty toward speculative fiction that is I, Robot: if you could throw them in a blender, you might get something approaching this pile-on of asking-to-be-smacked wishful thinking about life and love and death and time. We all have a miracle to share with a special someone! When we die, we fly up to the sky and become a star. If we live to be 108 years old, we can have milkshakes for lunch, damn what the doctor said!