TULIP FEVER ½
2017, R, 107 mins.
Alicia Vikander as Sophia Sandvoort / Dane DeHaan as Jan Van Loos / Zach Galifianakis as Gerrit / Judi Dench as The Abbess of St. Ursula / Christoph Waltz as Cornelis Sandvoort / Jack O'Connell as William / Holliday Grainger as Maria / Matthew Morrison as Mattheus / Cara Delevingne as Annetje / Tom Hollander as Dr. Sorgh
Directed by Justin Chadwick / Written by Deborah Moggach and Tom Stoppard, based on Moggach's novel
Very few period dramas featuring Academy Award winners both in front of and behind the camera are as criminally dull and amateurishly constructed as TULIP FEVER.
wrongheaded film stars the likes of Oscar winners Alicia Vikander,
Christoph Waltz, and Judi Dench and is written by Tom Stoppard (who won a
Best Screenplay Oscar for SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE decades ago) and finds very
few ways to properly harness their not so inconsiderable talents.
TULIP FEVER is almost head shakingly nonsensical throughout its
endurance testing 107 minutes, mostly because it involves (in no
particular order), forbidden romance, a subplot involving someone faking
pregnancy for months, and, yes, the tulip trade in 17th Century Amsterdam. It also has scenes of Vikander masturbating Waltz, the former
whose character refers to his penis as his "little soldier"
during said incident.
mouthed and aghast at this film - based on the novel of the same name by
Deborah Moggach - as it listlessly lingered on the screen will probably be
a common reaction for most moviegoers, seeing as it has gone
through the ringer of production and release hell.
Originally set to be filmed in 2004 with Jude Law and Keira
Knightley for director John Madden and producer Steven Spielberg, TULIP
FEVER went into limbo until director Justin Chadwick took a crack at it
with the aforementioned cast. Principal
photography commenced nearly three years ago with an original release of
November 2015, which got bumped to July of 2016...and then got bumped to
February of 2017...and then to August...and finally to September.
Release date shuffling is usually the qualitative kiss of death for
most movies, and TULIP FEVER is positively no exception in this regard;
this film is barely ready for prime time theatrical consumption in its
I guess if one
were going to essentially describe this infinitely messy and undisciplined
film then I would relay that it's ostensibly about an Amsterdam based
painter in the 17th Century that falls in love with a married woman whose
portrait he's been hired to paint. That's...pretty
much it. The woman in question is Sophia (the luminous and
talented Vikander, looking awkwardly confused here throughout), who's
married to a ridiculously rich and ridiculously self centered merchant
named Cornelis (Waltz, preposterously and distractingly hammy it up).
Cornelis lusts for an heir to his affluent empire, but multiple
attempts to impregnate Sophia are failures, leaving her feeling violated
on a nightly basis by a man she doesn't love while also feeling sexually
repressed at the same time. Alas,
fate steps in with a young, handsome, and penniless painter Jan Van Loos
(Dane DeHaan, never once feeling plausible in period garb or via his
questionably region free accent), who Cornelis hires to paint an
extravagant portrait of his wife. Predictably,
both Sophia and Jan are driven to one another and engage in passionate
love making while - yup - keeping it all a secret from you know who.
are subplots involving the tulip trade market in Amsterdam, which have
become a very hot commodity that various characters throughout the film -
in one convoluted form or another that lacks embellishment - manage to
get caught up in. Then
there's another story arc involving Sophia's only friend in the world in
Maria (Holliday Granger), the family maid that has taken to her own sexual
fling with a local fishmonger named Willem (Jack O'Connell), a
relationship that eventually intersects with Sophia and Jan's and
unavoidably leads to heartache. Then
there's some truly baffling cameos, like Tom Hollander playing an
alarmingly creepy doctor that initially tries to help Sophia conceive,
only later assisting her in faking a pregnancy to her husband. Judi
Dench, as mentioned, also appears as a nun that once looked after Sophia
at the orphanage that she was raised in that perhaps acts more
self-deprecatingly serious than anyone else in the cast.
Hell, even Zach Galifianakis shows up as Jan's sidekick, whose only
defining characteristics are that (a) he's drunk a lot and (b)
he's supposed to be funny...or maybe Galifianakis was just drunk while
making TULIP FEVER, which is understandable in retrospect.
Very little, if
anything, holds cohesively together in this film, which makes it come off
as one of those haphazardly rushed productions that could have easily
benefited from multiple re-writes of the script by Stoppard and perhaps a
longer running time to make all of this divergent and seemingly
incongruent material flow within one another.
Even when it appears that TULIP FEVER may indeed be heading down a
straight and proper path, it takes disastrous and frankly inane plot
detours and twists that have you thinking that a more preferable turn of
events would have been for any of these hapless characters to awaken in a
cold sweat to declare that everything that transpired before was all a bad
dream. The film could have
achieved a level of enjoyable camp if it didn't take itself so damn
seriously, as the narrative finally and mightily collapses under the
weight of its own unintentional stillness the whole enterprise becomes
I will say this,
thought: TULIP FEVER looks pretty. Damn
pretty. As a lush and opulent period piece with handsome production
values, costumes, and art direction, the film is reasonably triumphant.
Yet, nearly everything built around its attractive facade is
creatively null and void. Even
the presence of multiple great actors can't make the horrible material
they're collectively given work. Vikander
physically looks perfect for her role, but her character never develops
into a meaningful protagonist worthy of our interest, not to mention that
she's badly paired with DeHaan, a good actor when given proper material
that's six ways to Sunday an ill fit for this film. That, and the chemistry that he and Vikander share is
borderline comatose. There's
ample skin shown by the pair in their frequent sex scenes, but they're all
so passion-free that they don't even elevate TULIP FEVER to the moniker of
a cheaply disposable, but agreeable skin flick.
The screenplay does these actors no favors when it gives them such
cookie cutter lines like, for example (Jan): You've stolen my heart.
(Sophia): No. You've stolen
When a film like this doesn't even work as a passable piece of soft core erotica then you know you're in trouble. I felt pity for all of TULIP FEVER's actors, mostly because they've done memorable and lasting work in many other magnificent films. I rolled my eyes in stunned disbelief as the end credits rolled by and pondered how this film could be so incalculably dull considering its bounty of talent on board. Beyond that, I struggled with coming to grips as to what TULIP FEVER was trying to be about? Is it about star crossed lovers? Is it a cruel personal tragedy? Is it a period comedy? Is it a historical narrative about tulips and the tulip trade? Logic, energy, pacing, and all meaning has been zapped out of this production in all manners unexplainable. The only time TULIP FEVER generated any level of lasting creative interest was during a montage featuring Waltz's character and his pre-bedtime habits of taking a piss. That sequence is done with some semblance of editorial panache.
The rest of TULIP
FEVER regrettably belongs in the toilet.