I’ve recently rewatched Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and thought I’d share for those of you who perhaps meant to see it and forgot or put it off because you thought it was a kid’s movie, etc. Well, here’s a review.
The plot of the film is comprised of the first three books in the quite successful series .
The Bad Beginning
The Baudelaire children, Violet, Claus and Sunny find out that their parents have died in a fire that also destroyed their home. Their solicitor, Mr Poe (Timothy Spall) then informs them that they will be placed with a Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). A person they’ve never heard of before.
He’s going to start chewing on that in about three seconds.
The moment they arrive he gives them various tasks, one of which is making dinner for his Goth acting troupe (including Luis Guzman, Craig Ferguson, Jane Adams, and Jennifer Coolidge) in what looks like the kitchen from Withnail and I.
The kids realise Count Olaf is after their money and try to tell Mr Poe, but he doesn’t listen and soon, Olaf is granted custody. Immediately thereafter, he sets about getting their inheritance one way or another. (One way is gruesome death, the other is also gruesome death.)
After one of these plots doesn’t work out so well Mr Poe takes the kids to another ‘relative’, which brings us to…
The Reptile Room
The orphans are then given to Uncle Monty (Billy Connelly), who is also not a blood relation, but this one is at least jolly and, aside from the plethora of reptiles in the house, seems to mean the children no harm. He’s very recently discovered the Incredibly Deadly Viper and knows there are others in the herptelogical world jealous of his discovery. So when a suspicious character Stephano ‘An Italian Man’ arrives, and the kids prove that he knows nothing about snakes, Uncle Monty puts it down to jealousy over his discovery.
This guy. He’s lethal.
After some unfortunate events involving Uncle Monty and ‘Stephano’ Mr Poe steps in again and takes the kids to another non-blood related relative. And that begins…
The Wide Window
The children are delivered across lake Lachrymose to Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), who lives at the edge of a cliff just before a hurricane is set to blow in. And she is afraid of everything. Including doorknobs.
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.
Eventually, at the market, they run into Count Olaf in the guise of Captain Sham, who chats up Aunt Josephine. She has the children stay behind to buy food for dinner whilst they go back to her house to talk some more. By the time the children get back… well, more unfortunate events have transpired.
After which Mr Poe decides it’s perhaps best if the Baudelaire orphans return to Count Olaf. During this conversation, the lawyer reveals that Olaf would receive nothing if something were to happen to the children. There was only one way around it. Count Olaf, of course, tries to use that caveat as hard as he can and the kids try to outsmart him.
Lemony Snicket is portrayed by (though we only hear his voice) Jude Law. I spent the first half of the film thinking it was Martin Freeman. Whoops.
There are also delightful cameos by Catherine O’Hara, Helena Bonham Carter, Dustin Hoffman, and Jane Lynch.
Jim Carrey was Jim Carrey. His rubber face, over-acting schtick worked well for the role, but for me the appeal was everything else. The neo-Victorian sets, the Steampunky gadgets Violet invented, Sunny’s Cousin Itt-like ability to only be understood by her family, (but still had the funniest lines), and the cameos. CGI was clearly a huge part (ILM did over 500 effects) but there were very few moments where it was obvious.
It had a Tim Burtony feel (Burton was originally set to direct with Depp as Olaf, but when Burton left, Depp did, as well); and it had an almost Addams Family vibe (Barry Sonnenfeld and Scott Rudin were both briefly involved) and will likely please fans of either of those sorts of films. Or people who like Edward Gorey, particularly the Gashlycrumb Tinies .
It was one of those films that was cursorily for kids, but would also appeal to adults. Just like the books. And it stood up to a second viewing, which isn’t something you can say about many ‘kids’ movies. And I will probably watch it again. Overall, I’d give it a 7/10.
And it has this fantastic end title:
The Gothic Archies also did an album of music called The Tragic Treasury: Songs from A Series of Unfortunate Events which are songs from each of the audio books (most of which were read by Tim Curry because perfect casting does happen occasionally on this Earth) from each book. Daniel Handler (Snicket) is a member of The Gothic Archies. Which only serves to make me like him more.
And if you liked the film, please consider reading the books. They are great fun. A website for which is here . It has games and information about upcoming books (currently prequels about Snicket’s life are being published), and videos and things. I feel jealous for children growing up now, as no one wrote things for Gothic little girls when I was little.
These kids today have no idea how good they have it. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go scare some kids away from Old Ms Craven’s house, as they keep daring each other to touch the front porch.