Kick me now but I had no idea there was such a thing as a series of Lemony Snickets books before reading the announcement on the start of filming of Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events. I admit this so those fans of the Lemony Snickets books who want to know how faithfully the movie version follows the books will know Im not going to provide them with an answer, unfortunately. What I do know is that this Lemony Snickets movie is based on the first three books in the series.
The movie opens with a happy elf dancing about but its quickly apparent this isnt a happy elf type of movie. After warning the audience the movie theyre about to see is rather tragic, author Lemony Snicket (Jude Law, seen only in silhouette ) narrates the tale of the misadventures of the three Baudelaire orphans 14 year-old Violet (The Inventor), her younger brother Klaus (The Reader), and the toddler, Sunny (The Biter). After the mysterious deaths of their parents, the three unfortunate kids are placed in the custody of their not-so-loving Count Olaf (Carrey).
Count Olaf lives in a rundown, ramshackle place that would easily pass for a haunted house, with Olaf fitting right in as one of the undead. A failed, frustrated actor, Count Olaf believes his fortune has turned with the arrival of the wealthy young relatives. When his attempt to knock off the kids by leaving them on the train tracks fails, the children are removed from his custody and on to another series of unfortunate events. But Count Olafs not done yet. He reappears throughout the tale, donning new identities and disguises and fooling the adults, but never fooling the kids.
Lemony Snickets is a fun romp set against a dark, foreboding background. The sets are simply gorgeous making Lemony Snickets one of the best looking films of the year. The special effects never dwarf the acting or the telling of the tale. Dialogue and character development are at the forefront and the audience is allowed the opportunity to get to know each character (except for a few minor ones, such as the actors who belong to Count Olafs acting troupe). Burned-out houses, speeding trains, a spooky cave, and a house that falls apart a la Wizard of Oz provide a spectacular visual background on which the flesh and blood stars of Lemony Snickets really get a chance to strut their stuff.
As for the acting, Emily Browning (Violet) and Liam Aiken (Klaus) have just the right chemistry to play brother and sister. Lemony Snickets doesnt work if you dont like the young stars and these two are for real.
Jim Carrey is Jim Carrey. Youre not going to suddenly fall in love with him in this performance if you have your mind set against liking him. But hes terrific. Its impossible to visualize any other actor pulling off what he does as the villainous Count Olaf in his various disguises.
Meryl Streep plays a Baudelaire relative who is obsessed with safety. She wont heat her home because its not safe. The children are warned to stay away from the refrigerator because it might fall on them. You get the picture. I love the fact this character would have been so easy to take over the top, but Streep never once winks at the audience.
But the real stars of Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events are the two youngsters, Kara and Shelby Hoffman, who play Sunny the Biter. Sunny steals this movie. Sure, Sunnys lines are printed in subtitles at the base of the screen and those subtitles are pure genius (and some of the best lines in the movie). But the facial expressions on these kids are just too adorable for words (and Im not usually a fan of child actors, so thats high praise coming from me).
I became totally engrossed in the world of the Baudelaire children, proving its not necessary to have any knowledge of the source material to like the film. Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events more than lived up to expectations. Its Harry Potter-ish but with more of an adult twist to the humor. Not a Lemony Snickets fan prior to the movie, the film has made me want to check out the books (even if Im not really part of the target audience). Filled with creatures such as killer eels, creepy slithering snakes, and a sinister Count Olaf, the world of Lemony Snickets is one I look forward to visiting again and again.
"Lemony Snicket's: A Series of Unfortunate Events" was directed by Brad Silberling and is rated PG for thematic elements, scary situations and brief language.