Set in the 1880s, the story of how, during a creative dry spell, the partnership of the legendary musical/theatrical writers Gilbert and Sullivan almost dissolves, before they turn it all around and write the Mikado.
Maybe you have to be into theatre, and musicals in particular, and/or enjoy a history piece on Gilbert and Sullivan, but the movie is very uninteresting. Moves at a snail's pace, goes for 2 1/2 hours, and nothing really happens. What does happen, you know already, from the provided synopsis.
Director Mike Leigh could at least have made it shorter, rather than an endurance test.
The critical consensus is that this film is "grandly" and "thoroughly" entertaining, and quite frankly, that should tell you that the majority of film critics must have a great appreciation for this film, being that they've got to be old enough to have actually attended a Gilbert and Sullivan production, which isn't to say that this film is all that dull, though it isn't terribly far off, as it is some of that good old fashion dry "entertainment". The film is almost dizzyingly British, right down to having that bread-rusk dryness that cuts deep down to the atmosphere, from which the dryness cuts much lively juice in the process, leaving the film often limp in tone, a situation made stingier by a story structure that's all too often just as limp. While the subject matter is intriguing, there's not a whole lot of meat or sweep to it, thus it is debatable whether or not it warrant a 160-minute runtime, and this film's story structures stands as strong evidence against the idea that this subject matter can comfortably fit such a sprawling runtime, as there's only so much punch to it, and with quite a bit of repetition, redundance and overall excessive padding, much of this film slows to a crawl, limping in its progression and often losing you along the way. I don't really feel so much like saying that the film loses steam, as it leaves the gate lacking in oomph and goes on to stay the course, picking up quite a bit in some spots, though not quite enough to go fully redeemed, and after a while, steam doesn't so much continue to die down as much as you grow more and more aware of much steam is limited. That right there is the mark of an underwhelming final product, and this film is exactly that, but just barely. The film doesn't go too many places, yet when it gets to where it wants to go, it delivers quite well, and when it's not hitting such high points, it's kept going by a variety of strengths. That's sadly not enough to carry the film past kind of dull, yet it is more than enough to make it an enjoyable watch, especially if you're a fan of fine production pieces.
For set and costume production in 1999, this film cost quite the pretty penny, and while it didn't make up for that financially, it certainly found itself rewarded in Oscar gold, and justly so, as the production designs and art direction is brilliantly elaborate and transportingly subtle, planting you back into England's Victorian era while really capturing the livliness of Gilbert and Sullivan's world with much dazzling flashiness. What further breathes life into this era is Mike Leigh's script, which is may be a structural mess, but has its fair share of razor-sharp moments, while keeping consistent in portraying the era and its people in a fashion that is charmingly authentic, yet not overbearingly so, feeling believable and comforting, with mostly sharp humor enhancing such a feel. Sure, not all bits of humor hit home, and there is the occasional one that just plain falls flat on its face, yet more often than not, it wins you over with cleverness, wit and, here and there, even a bit of snap that feels very down-to-earth, yet slick enough to keep you charmed, if not chuckling. Still, the film wouldn't be as lively as it is without the the intense charm of the talent-riddled cast of charismas. Now, the film is being touted by a couple of people as a drama, when really, this film is about as much the drama that people say it is as it is the consistently fun film that people say it is, so don't expect a whole lot of dramatic material to fall upon our performers for them to carry you past the slowness, but expect them to make up for that with across-the-board colorful and distinct charisma so sharp, that you'd be hard pressed to not find these characters memorable. Yes, the film, while quite flawed, has much in the way of strengths, yet everything leads back to one certain aspect that really carries this film. Ladies and gentlemen, if nothing else, the film is thoroughly charming in its wit, innocence and memorability, and while its being just so slow and overlong keeps it from really punching, it remains not simply enjoyable, but rather worth remembering, because for every fault - of course, there are many -, there is a winning strength to charm and transport you into this lively world, and leave you to have a decent time while doing so.
Overall, the film isn't quite the thoroughly entertaining piece many tout it to be, as it goes tainted by a consistently dry aura that, alongside reptition, redundance and a profound lack of oomph, really emphasizes the lack of juice in this subject matter and the gratuitousness of its length, rendering the final product somewhat dull, often disengaging and ultimately underwhelming, yet still worth watching, not just because of the brilliantly intricate, lively and all around very well-done production designs and art direction, but also because of the witty script, complimented by mostly sharp humor, and really brought to life by a slew of colorful, memorable and immensely charismatic performers, who stand as one of the biggest supplements to the consistent and intense charm that ultimately leaves "Topsy-Turvy" to stand as an enjoyable and sometimes even somewhat intriguing study on the early years of Gilbert and Sullivan, even if it itself gets to be a bit of a topsy-turvy watch.
2.5/5 - Fair