And the Oscar goes to… Jim Carrey, Jim Carrey, and Jim Carrey.” That’s what I hope to hear come February 27, 2005. One statuette for each character the actor portrays in this film. After all, isn’t it time critics stopped chiding Carrey for super-sizing every performance and started recognizing that is exactly what he was put on earth to do? If this movie also wins awards for production design, costumes, makeup, and directing, it will have been a very good night indeed—and well deserved.
That said; the one award I would withhold from A Series of Unfortunate Events is “Best Picture.” Yes, this is an entertaining film. And it does succeed in creating memorable characters, exciting situations, and a highly innovative fantasy world. But, based as it is on the first three books in the Lemony Snicket series, the movie also suffers from a serious case of “episodism.” What I mean is, the same sorts of scenes and situations keep happening over and over again. After their parents are killed in a mysterious fire that also destroys their mansion, the Bauedelaire children—Violet, who invents things; Klaus, who reads; and two-year-old Sunny, who can bite—are shipped off to one mysterious relative after another. All the while, they are hunted by the evil Count Olaf, leader of a gothic acting troupe who is bent on killing the children and stealing their inheritance. Relying on their wits and a bit of luck, the children manage to escape Olaf again and again, only to be shipped off to yet another mysterious “relative.” The third time this happens, some of the threads begin to sag in what has been up till then a tautly woven adventure. But such problems are endemic to stories that intentionally withhold the climax until a subsequent film.
In the tradition of classic children’s tales like Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang or virtually any novel by Roald Dahl, the adults in this film are either clueless or evil. Either way, they cannot be trusted. I’m not sure that I am entirely comfortable with this message. The world being what it is, children today are more in need of assurance than cynicism. Then again, a bit of healthy skepticism when it comes to adults and their intentions is never a bad thing. I also think the Bauedelaire children serve as healthy role models for kids today. Left alone in the world, as it were, they are forced to think for themselves—a skill that many adults struggle to master. The children also demonstrate that everyone has something to contribute to the good of the group, and that we are stronger when we work together than on our own.
Finally, I also affirm the overall message of this film. For children who may suffer at the hands of adults, as the Bauedelaire children most definitely do, this movie assures them that what might at first seem like a series of unfortunate events may actually be the beginning of a beautiful journey. And even though the world may appear evil, if we look hard enough, we will discover there is much more good than bad. I can’t imagine a more appropriate message for this time of year.