MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Tulip Fever’ is period fodder of the most ridiculous disposition

While the cast is comparatively impressive, Justin Chadwick's long-delayed period drama lacks passion or conviction of any substantial kind

| September 2, 2017

Oh, “Tulip Fever,” how we hardly knew thee…even if we hard about you far too much. The road for “Tulip Fever” and its release to theaters has been the farthest thing from an easy one. Back in 2004, DreamWorks Pictures had acquired the rights to Deborah Moggach’s 1999 novel of the same name, with Jude Law, Natalie Portman and Jim Broadbent in its main cast. Then, 12 days before shooting, the British government slashed a tax break program causing the $45 million budget to balloon by over $17 million, ultimately killing the project. Nine years later, director Justin Chadwick boarded the project at Paramount Pictures (who took over all DreamWorks properties when the two companies split in 2011), and in partnership with Harvey Weinstein at The Weinstein Company, resurrected the project with then rising star Alicia Vikander in the lead role. After assembling an all-star cast and shooting the project, the film was scheduled for a November 2015 release, but TWC then removed the film from the schedule for unknown reasons, pushing the film back to July 15, 2016, but was then shifted to Feb. 24, 2017, to which the film was pulled from release just a few short weeks before that release. “Tulip Fever” came back onto the schedule later for an Aug. 25 release, that which was delayed another week until Sept. 1. Now, nearly two years after the film was initially set to be released, audiences can now see what TWC was shielding so fiercely from the world.

Not much, apparently.

In 1634 Amsterdam during the height of Tulip Mania, Sophia Sandvoort (Alicia Vikander) is a young woman in an unhappy marriage to the wealthy and much older Cornelis (Christoph Waltz). While Cornelis is not a cruel or violent husband, he is desperate for an heir to follow him in life, to which Sophia is finding herself incapable of doing. When Cornelis hires a young painter, Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan) to commission a portrait of the couple, Sophia immediately finds herself lusting over the young artist, to which they begin a sordid sexual relationship. Meanwhile, when Sophia’s handmaiden, Maria (Holliday Grainger), finds herself pregnant at the hands of the now absent Willam (Jack O’Connell), Sophia hatches a plan to fake her own pregnancy while concealing Maria’s to give Cornelis the heir he desires, while letting Maria keep her job.

There are quite a few things about “Tulip Fever” that don’t add up, but the biggest sin of the film is that there is absolutely zero passion in any aspect of the film, whether it be from anyone’s performances, the chemistry between DeHaan and Vikander, the tension in the screenplay, or the direction from Chadwick. There’s nothing about “Tulip Fever” that shows any sort of passion or delicate care was taken in its production. What you’re left with is a seemingly empty period piece that can’t even stand on the feet of its own aesthetic without tripping. For a film set during the 17th century Dutch Tulip Mania, the film is not a colorful look inside Amsterdam, but a dreary, artificial feeling, dreary period piece that is only distinguishable by it’s complete lack of flash at all.

Vikander is fine as Sophia, but from the other performances we’ve been treated with from the Swedish actress, this definitely falls near the bottom of the pack for her. The difference between a character like Sophia and someone like Anna Karenina or Katherine from “Lady Macbeth” is that her struggles are never compelling to watch. With Keira Knightley’s recent iteration of “Anna Karenina,” the power of the film came from her deteriorating mental state throughout the film that is wonderfully realized in Leo Tolstoy’s source material. While Katherine in “Lady Macbeth” found a compelling streak in the absolute, psychopathic madness that plagued her character from her burgeoning sense of power and sexuality she gained throughout the film. Sophia, on the other hand, has no real qualities about her that stand out as anything but cookie-cutter adulteress. But for that matter, without any chemistry at all with her lover, DeHaan (whom I’m starting to see an unfortunate trend with), this sordid affair doesn’t just lack passion, it lacks relevance, as the audience is left to wonder why Sophia would even engage in such behavior in the first place.

The rest of the cast is also fine, I guess, but for one exception: Zach Galifanakis. The charismatic comedian takes on the role of Gerrit, Jan’s drunken assistant in the film, in what has to be one of the worst performances I’ve seen this year. Thanks to an inconsistent, ranging to straight up laughable Irish accent (even though his character is Dutch) and some completely out of place, buffoonish and terribly irritating antics, this was a strange casting choice that is seemingly more perplexing after having seen the film than before.

While “Tulip Fever” has an all-star cast, there are far too many characters and sub-plots int he film that clutter the film into being far more thna just a film about a forbidden love affair. At a point, the film veers off in so many different directions that I actually began to forget that the film’s main focus was to be on the affair between Sophia and Jan, as the film failed to focus on it for long stretches of time.

“Tulip Fever” isn’t poorly directed from an objective standpoint, it just suffers from a general lack of enthusiasm on Chadwick’s part. “Tulip Fever” is a film we’ve seen before in many iterations, whether it be in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina,” Nikolai Leskov’s “Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District,” or Émile Zola’s “Thérèse Raquin,” among many other knock-offs of its kind. The issue here isn’t that “Tulip Fever” isn’t original, but that it has no desire to be so. Never once does Chadwick or screenwriter Tom Stoppard feel the need to do anything with the material that hasn’t been done many times over in much better fashions. This brings “Tulip Fever” to a screeching halt that it never picks up from. Even the plot points and sequences that could’ve made “Tulip Fever” stand out, such as the actual tulip trading sub-plots themselves, feel underdone and dead on arrival.

I could even give “Tulip Fever” points had it been all style, no substance. While the film does indeed have more style over substance, there isn’t much of either on either accounts. The film doesn’t seek to be pretty, despite its setting and time period. This feels like a major waste in what could’ve been an absolutely beautiful film.

That’s what “Tulip Fever” ends up being in the end: a waste. It’s a waste of an all-star cast, with a talented director behind the camera, talented producers helming the film and a talented crew to assemble it, to all that ends up being a film that feel more like a pile of separate mechanisms on the floor rather than a moving machine of a film. In a way, I can see why TWC decided to push the film back so much, but at the same time, I can’t see any way that time could’ve helped any other helping hands save this film from being what it always was: a waste. It’s not a complete disaster of a film like something like “The Book of Henry” was from its potential, but it’s a film that won’t fade into obscurity from its general lack of prowess, but will stay in people’s minds on how not to make a film like this, whether it be from production, marketing or distribution standpoints.

1.5/5

Photo courtesy of The Weinstein Company

Directed by: Justin Chadwick
Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Jack O’Connell, Holliday Grainger, Tom Hollander, Matthew Morrison, Cara Delevingne, Kevin McKidd, Douglas Hodge, Joanna Scanlan, with Zach Galifanakis, and Judi Dench, and Christoph Waltz.
Runtime: 107 minutes
Rating: R for sexual content and nudity.
Now playing at select Charlotte-area theaters.

The Weinstein Company presents, Worldview Entertainment presents, Paramount Pictures Corporation presents, a Ruby Films production, a film by Justin Chadwick, “Tulip Fever”

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Category:Arts and Entertainment, Film

Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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Hunter Heilman Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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