- Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie (2004) review: Brad Silberling’s lavish but witless, artificial, and ponderous big-screen version of a trio of Gothic tales by Daniel Handler (a.k.a. “Lemony Snicket”) makes the mistake of featuring too much mugging – courtesy of Jim Carrey as Count Olaf – and too little enchantment.
- In addition to Jim Carrey’s overbearing presence, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events also features Jude Law (as narrator Lemony Snicket), Meryl Streep, Timothy Spall, and Catherine O’Hara, plus cameos by Dustin Hoffman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Jane Lynch. Yet the film’s actual stars are two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (A Little Princess, 1995; Sleepy Hollow, 1999), Oscar-winning production designer Rick Heinrichs (Sleepy Hollow, 1999), and Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood (Chicago, 2002).
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie: Gothic tale is perverted as a showcase for Jim Carrey’s mugging
Three of Daniel Handler’s Gothic stories about three siblings on the run from a ruthless and greedy relative – The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, and The Wide Window – are given the big-budget Hollywood treatment in director Brad Silberling and screenwriter Robert Gordon’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie adaptation.
As to be expected, the $140 million film boasts first-rate production values, with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s lenses perfectly capturing the eerie Gothic-ness of production designer Rick Heinrichs’ creations and the extravagance of Colleen Atwood’s costumes. (It’s surely no coincidence that all three also worked on Tim Burton’s Gothic-y fantasy Sleepy Hollow.)
On the other hand, as befits most Hollywood fare – e.g., the recent Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Silberling and Gordon (and the film’s producers) have taken a mechanical approach to the narrative, thus obliterating whatever enchantment there may have been in the original work. (Handler’s own adaptation was discarded once Silberling – replacing Barry Sonnenfeld – came onboard.)
Man of a handful of faces
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events begins after a house fire kills the wealthy Baudelaire couple (production designer Rick Heinrichs, Amy Brenneman), parents of Klaus (Liam Aiken), Violet (Emily Browning), and the toddler Sunny (Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman).
After a judge stupidly grants guardianship rights to the creepy Count Olaf (Jim Carrey) – a distant relative sporting a combination of bad hair, bad teeth, and bad manners – a family friend, Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall), leaves the children in his care.
Can’t adults ever see the obvious?
At first, Count Olaf treats the kids like slaves, but he eventually realizes that they would be better off dead – as far as he is concerned. After all, with the three brats out of the way, the Baudelaires’ money would be all his.
Following a failed attempt on the children’s lives, the count loses his custody rights. But no matter. In true Lon Chaney fashion (see The Phantom of the Opera, The Unholy Three, etc.), Count Olaf comes up with a couple of disguises that, he hopes, will help him to get rid of his financial obstacles once and for all.
The Jim Carrey Show
Jim Carrey, hardly the subtlest of actors, plays Count Olaf as if Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events were his one-man show. The story suffers as a result – wasting someone of Meryl Streep’s caliber is just another miscalculation – but that seems to have been of little concern to the filmmakers.
Perhaps when you are making a film with a nine-figure budget, the focus is on big box office names, visual grandeur, and state-of-the-art special effects. Little else matters.
Thus, the beautifully packaged but brainless, soulless A Series of Unfortunate Events movie adaptation plods along for nearly two hours, as each unfortunate – and interminable – event is followed by another.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)
Director: Brad Silberling.
Screenplay: Robert Gordon.
From Daniel Handler’s books The Bad Beginning (1999), The Reptile Room (1999), and The Wide Window (2000).
Cast: Jim Carrey. Meryl Streep. Liam Aiken. Emily Browning. Jude Law. Timothy Spall. Catherine O’Hara. Billy Connolly. Craig Ferguson. Luis Guzmán. Kara Hoffman. Shelby Hoffman. Jennifer Coolidge. Jaimie Harris. Jane Adams. Rick Heinrichs. Amy Brenneman.
Cameos: Dustin Hoffman. Helena Bonham Carter. Jane Lynch.
Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki. Film Editing: Michael Kahn. Music: Thomas Newman. Production Design: Rick Heinrichs. Producers: Laurie MacDonald, Jim Van Wyck, and Walter F. Parkes.
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Movie” notes
 Regarding Daniel Handler’s dismissal from the making of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, director Brad Silberling told the Los Angeles Times: “Daniel’s very prolific. He cranked out draft after draft, and he got to that point where up is down and red is blue, and I could see that in the screenplay. It was kind of a wreck, a glorious one.”
In the same piece, Handler lamented that it “made me sad to put a lot of effort into a film that turned out to go in a different direction.”
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Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie cast and crew information via the AFI Catalog website and other sources.
Meryl Streep and Jim Carrey Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events movie images: DreamWorks | Paramount Pictures.
“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Movie: Lotsa Mugging, No Magic” last updated in March 2021.