Winter’s Tale, the adaptation of Mark Helprin’s 1983 novel of the same name, is a modern fairy tale. It’s a story about destiny, heaven and hell, miracles and the power of love. The extend to which the movie works is in large part up to how much you’re willing to leave your logic at the door and just go with it. Like with most fairy tales you have to take lots of things at face value: this is not the type of film where you have to doubt the fact a man and a woman who’ve just met immediately declare their eternal and undying love for each other. If you’re rolling your eyes while you are reading this, then Winter’s Tale is not the film for you. But if you let it, Winter’s Tale can be quite effective in all its kitschy glory.
But please don’t mistake Winter’s Tale for a good film: the script and effects are too hoaky for that, some of the acting too hammy, the last act too underdeveloped. Why it manages to work despite all these apparent flaws, is because of some very good central performances that make you care about the characters and the ridiculous story they’re part of. Colin Farrell plays Peter Lake, an orphan thief who is on the run from his demon boss and father figure Pearly Soames, portrayed by a scenery chewing Russell Crowe. Farrell exudes a warmth and innocence, combined with exactly the right amount of fallibility and clumsiness to make his Peter Lake a very likeable character. But even more important is his chemistry with the beautiful and radiant Jessica Brown Findlay: she lights up the screen whenever she’s on it and from the moment Peter Lake and her character Beverly meet, they’re such a match you can’t help but buy into their love story, the heart of the film. Brown Findlay has great comedic timing, bounces off of Farrell very well, and gives depth and humanity to a part that could just as easily have been just another Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
The third act of the film offers a change of scenery and characters and it’s not a change for the best. Winter’s Tale asks its audience to immediately care about some of the new characters that get thrown into the mix but they aren’t developed at all, a stark contrast compared to what has come before. The new setting also causes the film to lose its fairy tale quality, which makes the eventual conclusion of Winter’s Tale a disappointment. It’s because of Farrell that the movie doesn’t completely fall apart in its final moments, but it comes dangerously close.
Winter’s Tale is kitchy pulp elevated and saved by some wonderful central performances. It keeps you invested while you’re watching it, but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. A real guilty pleasure. 6/10