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Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 12:04 am

Lack of focus prevents Tulip from blooming

Alicia Vikander as Sophia in Tulip Fever.


Like a piece of fresh meat on a kitchen counter, films tend to not get any better the longer they sit. After being completed more than three years ago and delayed for release three times, Justin Chadwick’s adaptation of Deborah Moggach’s novel Tulip Fever finally hit theaters over the Siberia of all movie weekends, Labor Day. Far from the worst film of the year, it’s still a misguided, confused effort that fails to capture the spirit or complexity of the book, a condensed but glorious-looking project that doesn’t adequately mine its source material.

Set in Amsterdam in 1637, a love triangle is a brewin’ amidst the historic tulip boom, in which bulbs for the flower were a speculative commodity that gave rise to overnight fortunes or sudden ruin. Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), a well-to-do importer who has all the accouterments of wealth, including a much younger trophy wife, Sophia (Alicia Vikander), whom he’s rescued from an orphanage and with whom he expects to produce an heir. After three years of trying, no baby has been had, so Sandvoort occupies himself with other pursuits, one of them being him and his wife posing for a portrait at the hand of artist Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan). This proves to be a disastrous move as a spark occurs between the youngsters, and, before you know it, they’re doing much more than just looking longingly at one another.

The curious thing about the film – and its major fault – is that so little passion is generated between DeHaan and Vikander. They go through the motions but little else as the duo fails to create a sense of intimacy between the characters, whether they’re in each other’s arms or simply talking. Curiously, this passion is present between Jack O’Connell and Holiday Grainger, who portray Willem, an ambitious fishmonger who has good fortune investing in tulip bulbs, and Maria, Sandvoort’s maid, respectively. Their interactions have a natural quality about them that brings their characters to life and allows us to become more engaged in their hopes and plans than the primary couple.

The movie becomes less of a love story coupled with an expose of one of the first economic bubbles than a melodrama that becomes increasingly ridiculous. A hidden pregnancy and reversals of fortune figure prominently and are laid out in such a way that you come to realize there’s only one possible resolution to this narrative mess – and even that’s a stretch.

As always, Waltz is the consummate professional and manages to elicit some sympathy for the pompous Sandvoort, a man who may be blind to aspects of the world around him but doesn’t deserve to be a cuckold. Judi Dench is also a welcome sight as the abbess of a convent who winds up having far more to do with the machinations at play than you might first expect.

In the end, Tulip Fever proves to be a movie of missed opportunities, one that feels incomplete, miscalculated and suffers from a lack of focus. What with Zach Galifianakis as Sandvoort’s perpetually drunken aide and Tom Hollander as a suspicious doctor in obviously abbreviated roles, one can’t help but wonder what was left on the cutting room floor and what the film would have been had it been allowed to bloom.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.


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