mon 04/03/2024

A New York Winter's Tale | reviews, news & interviews

A New York Winter's Tale

A New York Winter's Tale

Magical-realist film is cracked in ways that go beyond Russell Crowe's face

`But have you actually READ the script?!' Colin Farrell clasps hands - perhaps in prayer? - with love interest Jessica Brown Findlay

"What's happening here?" Jennifer Connelly asks somewhere near the not-a-moment-too-soon ending of A New York Winter's Tale, a question filmgoers will have been muttering from pretty much the first frame. Not long after, Connelly lets rip with "this is crazy", a sentiment similarly likely to strike home with that hapless few who find themselves at this magical-realist foray into psychobabble and soap suds.

Writer-director-producer Akiva Goldsman may have won an Oscar for scripting A Beautiful Mind (Connelly got her own trophy for that one), but his directorial debut has eventual triumph at the Razzies - the film world's annual celebration of the year's worst - written all over its preposterous face.  

As it happens, Connelly's unforced luminosity is among the few virtues of a film that seems to wander off in every direction at once - and I'm referring not just to leading man Colin Farrell's hair, which here treats the actor's scalp as a sort of runway. Or maybe his follicles are simply following the lead of the winged horse that goes by the name of Horse and tends to take flight whenever it sees a badly scarred Russell Crowe (pictured below right) swaggering into view, the glowering Ozzie flanked by enough grim-faced accomplices to populate many a remake of Gangs of New York. (That is not a suggestion.)

Russell Crowe looking meanCrowe, sporting a very ripe Irish accent, plays the nemesis of the orphaned mechanic and sometime-criminal played by the genuinely Irish Farrell - you try figuring out the casting logic at work on this picture - in a time-travelling tale that begins in 1914 and then leaps forward a century to make various gaseous pronouncements about destiny and humankind and looking up at the stars. (The film's source is a 1983 Mark Helprin novel that I now have no intention of going anywhere near.) Can it be that Goldsman still hasn't recovered from Crowe non-singing the defining song, "Stars", from Les Miserables, in which the celluloid tough guy played a less crackpot version of the venal obsessive on view here? Could be, except that very much unlike Les Mis, Crowe here comes with a face that on several occasions suddenly cracks like so much ice in winter, his character's eventual fate prompting the most hilarious visual coup of all.

Otherwise, there's virtually no levity to be had in a syrupy narrative that starts by pairing Farrell's Peter Lake with Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay, cast as a russet-tressed, London-born temptress who's apparently consumptive - though, if that were the case, I'm not sure she'd be pounding away on the piano at Brahms with quite the vigour presented. "Ah, Brahms" (or words to that effect) coos her sad-eyed father, who is played by William Hurt, a onetime Oscar winner himself who now seems to be losing almost all his hair. Or perhaps he loaned it to Farrell during the shoot. 

Jessica Brown Findlay and Colin FarrellFindlay's Beverly Penn (pictured left with Farrell) promptly drops dead after having sex with Farrell, as you do, a yawn-inducing occurrence that in turn sends our doe-eyed hero hurtling into a modern-day Manhattan that looks mighty lustrous courtesy of the camera work of the great Caleb Deschanel. Beverly, meanwhile, lives on via her younger sister, who grows into a powerful New York newspaper editor who on this evidence still goes to the office at age 100-plus (Eva Marie Saint, 90 this year and yet another Oscar laureate, gets that role). And lest Beverly's own plight be forgotten, Peter finds her modern-day equivalent in the Connelly character's ailing if plucky daughter, Abby, a coincidence (gee, isn't life cyclical?) that feeds much glib commentary on death and dying, every word of it tendentious.  

I cannot neglect to mention that a puffy-faced Will Smith turns up, sporting earrings and a low growl, to snarl some gobbledygook or other about the "ebbs and turns" of time. The script's most lunatic bit is an extended riff on how you pronounce "et" in words like "fillet" and "wallet" but apparently not - for the film's purposes - "valet". What does such wordplay have to do with a film whose title suggests a possible riff on Shakespeare's ravishing late-career romance but couldn't in fact be further from that Winter's Tale if it tried? To pose one of the few questions the attentively puzzled Connelly doesn't get to ask, "who the hell knows?"

  • Overleaf: watch the trailer for A New York Winter's Tale
Akiva Goldsman's directorial debut couldn't be further from Shakespeare's Winter's Tale if it tried


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