The tagline on the “Winter’s Tale” poster reads: “This is not a true story; it’s a love story” which makes about as much sense as this mess of a film. Couples looking for a nice romantic movie for Valentine’s Day would be better advised to fire up Netflix or drop by the nearest Redbox. Even the new “RoboCop” remake has a better love story than this one.
Directed by Akiva Goldsman, “Winter’s Tale” is an adaptation of a book Martin Scorsese called “unfilmable.” It’s a love story that can’t decide whether to be a period piece or a fantasy, and the juxtaposition of the two is one of many things that kills the film.
Colin Farrell plays Peter, an orphan trying to scrape by in 1916 New York City as a thief. Jessica Brown Findlay plays Beverly, a wealthy free spirit who is dying of consumption. One day while the rest of the family is away, Colin breaks into Beverly’s house, discovers her playing Brahms on the family piano and they fall in love.
If only life were so simple. The trouble is that Peter is also on the run from his old boss Pearly (Russell Crowe), a local crime boss who also happens to be a demon. Did I mention this is a fantasy? Apparently New York is filled with angels and demons and guardian spirits that show up as white horses even though they’re always referred to as dogs and oh, never mind.
Pearly wants to destroy Peter and hatches an elaborate plan to use Beverly to get to him, whereby Peter and Beverly have premarital sex, which kills her, then after falling off the Brooklyn Bridge Peter washes up in Queens with amnesia and spends the next 100 years evolving into a classic New York crazy person instead of aging (though to be fair, his hair does get quite a bit longer).
Somewhere in all of this there is a plot about miracles and destiny and redheads, but none of it makes any real sense, especially the “rules” that govern the behavior of the angels and demons but come across as easily dismissed plot conveniences more than anything else. By the time 119-year-old Peter meets a single mother played by Jennifer Connelly and the present day plot kicks in, you're too far lost to care.
The sad thing, aside from its wasted cast, is that “Winter’s Tale” might have made an OK movie if it had either dug in as a period piece about class conflict or gone full in as a fairy tale. But nothing meshes, especially once we are propelled into modern times. When something fantastic happens in the middle of an otherwise ordinary situation, it feels way too jarring. And that’s to say nothing of the surprise cameo by Lucifer, who for some reason is wearing a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt in 1916.
There are certain movies that are designed to require a suspension of disbelief, but “Winter’s Tale” requires about 10 suspensions too many. Without having read the book, it’s hard to say whether the problem is with the source material or the director, but one way or another we wound up with a movie that gets in big trouble once you start asking questions.
A piece of advice? Don’t pay attention to the superimposed dates that mark the passage of time. If you do, you’ll start wondering how 37-year-old Farrell is supposed to only be 21, or how a 108-year-old woman is managing the day-to-day affairs of a major New York City newspaper.
If you're still determined to see a New York-based film about the romantic powers of the heavens this season, go rent "Moonstruck." The writing is better, the story is better and it's only funny when it means to be.
“Winter’s Tale” is rated PG-13 for some violence and profanity and a surprising amount of sexual content.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.