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Tulip Fever is a lush, handsomely-mounted period piece undone by uninspired dialogue and excessive plotting.
All Critics (59)
| Top Critics (18)
| Fresh (6)
| Rotten (53)
The film's centre doesn't hold.
It's all instantly forgettable. Except for the tulips - which, for the record, look stellar.
Like many complex novels crammed into 100-page screenplays, Tulip Fever is a mess of too many subplots, all awkwardly condensed and fighting for screen time.
To paraphrase Bill Murray's famous line from Tootsie, the long-delayed Tulip Fever is one nutty 17th century melodrama.
All told, this movie about love during a bubble is a bust.
Forget fever -- this floral-scented fiasco is so lifeless you can barely feel a pulse.
Perhaps if this film had been crafted as a screwball comedy it would've been more effective.
Such a fascinating moment in Dutch history is deserving of a far better vehicle than an episode of Hollyoaks produced by Harvey Weinstein.
Parts of the plot make the tulip buyers themselves look positively restrained. Worth a look for the costumes (and how they are used), Christoph Waltz and Holliday Grainger -- otherwise save your money and buy your loved one a bunch of garage flowers.
The quality of the cast and the level of craftsmanship ensure a superficially entertaining film, but you suspect it could have been so much more.
It seems more like a slick period piece or tiresomely predictable caper.
Tulip Fever is a pretty picture, and it effectively transports you back in time, but once you are there you'll be headed to the exit before you can even smell the tulips.
Twisty to the point of complete stupidity, this sumptuous period drama may be relatively impressive with its production design and costumes but in the end is nothing more than a cheap soap opera that can't even entertain us with its corny display of ardent sexual desire.
Suspenseful and full of intrigue, Tulip Fever is a gripping period drama based on a bestselling novel. The story follows a young wife who's unable to conceive and after falling for a painter plots to fake a pregnancy and childbearing death in order to run-off with her new lover. Featuring Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, and Christoph Waltz, the cast is rather impressive and gives strong performances. However, the writing is weak and does a poor job at developing the romance and the tulip subplot. Still, the sets and costumes are incredibly well-done, as is the score; which adds a lot of tension and drama to the film. Tulip Fever has some storytelling problems, but overall it delivers a fairly compelling tale of love, betrayal, and sacrifice.
We are witnessing the death knells of the Weinstein Company, and in its darkest hour emerges whatever the hell Tulip Fever is. Mired in production hell for over a decade and delayed release for three years after filming, the film amounts to a laughable period piece with an epic lack of focus. It does for historical fiction what The Space Between Us did for YA sci-fi. For all its presumptive wit, the laughter comes more from the fact that so much talent went into making such an obliviously crappy film. Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz, and Alicia Vikander all put in a valiant effort towards retaining their dignity, but even they couldn't act themselves out of this cinematic quicksand. They aren't really given characters to work with, and I think you can even see the dissatisfaction they have for their parts in certain scenes. For some reason Dane Dehaan and Cara Delevigne are given some of the top billing despite the fact they get a relatively small amount screen time. Perhaps Weinstein and co. were hedging their bets that Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets would propel that not-so-dynamic duo on to the A list, and when that didn't work out they cut a bunch of their scenes. Regardless of the people involved, the story seems like it's trying to do too much while doing nothing at all. Most synopses you will find refer to a secret love affair between Dehaan and Vikander while they try to sell tulips or something. That is a gross misrepresentation of the "plot", if you can call it that. Even after seeing some of the most dense and surreal Bergman, Malle, and Wenders films, I had at least a tenuous grasp on what those films were doing. Upon viewing this confusingly edited and poorly told story, I am truly baffled over what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish here. Perhaps I'm giving it too much credit, but I shudder to think that someone went through all of this trouble to make a movie that simplistically whimpers "babies are good, and flowers are pretty".
Tulip Fever was originally filmed back in 2014 and has endured two years of delayed release dates. In the time it took the studio to make and release Tulip Fever, Alicia Vikander filmed The Danish Girl, it was released, and she won an Oscar, and now she's going to portray Lara Croft in a new Tomb Raider franchise. The question arises why something seemingly so innocuous would take so long to release. The studio seems quite hesitant about the finished product. The Weinstein Company even packaged a rare red band trailer for their movie, something more associated with ribald comedies and bloody action films. A movie about tulips and love affairs seems like an odd choice, but hey, people got to see some extra Vikander nudity for free. It's being dumped into theaters over a tepid Labor Day release and the advertising is billing it as an "erotic thriller," which is a mistake on two fronts. It's not truly erotic, lacking a primal carnal power, and it's not really a thriller. It all smells less than rosy and more of desperation.
Set in the early 1600s in Amsterdam, and the nation has gone wild for tulips. The flowers are being traded and sold in the backs of taverns, and the tulip market seems limitless. Meanwhile, Sophia (Vikander) is a young woman who is married off to Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), the self-described "king of peppercorn." The relationship lacks passion as their nightly sessions fail to deliver a child. Cornelis, thinking about his legacy, hires a painter, Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), for a portrait of he and Sophia. The painter falls in love with his subject and he and Sophia begin having an affair. The servant woman, Maria (Holliday Grainger), is witness to her mistress' secrets, and as their affair continues, both parties devise an elaborate means that they can be together.
Tulip Fever is awash in strange and ineffective plotting. Firstly, the film never presents a suitable rationale for why Sophia would fall into bed with Jan. It presents her frustrations and malaise with her husband, so being in a position for finding a passionate alternative and outlet is established. After a few painting sessions with Jan, apparently they're smitten with one another, though the movie never does the slightest work to establish a spark between them. It's not like much would have been required. Make Jan a charmer who makes Sophia feel valued and desired. A handful of careful exchanges hinting at an inappropriate fascination are all that was needed. Instead their coupling feels largely arbitrary and from thin air. Movies directly hinging upon romantic affairs succeed on the virtue of making you feel the desire of the characters, whether that's a romantic yearning or even just simple hardcore lust. Sexual tension is a paramount necessity. I felt no chemistry, desire, or even sexual tension between DeHaan and Vikander. There was no heat or sensuality here. Then there's the matter of Sophia's relationship with Maria, our curiously chosen narrator. We're told that Maria sees Sophia like a sister, but once again the movie doesn't show anything to indicate a particularly close relationship between the two. Then when Maria announces her pregnancy she threatens her "sister" if she gets thrown out of employment. She'll tell Sophia's husband what she's been up to with her painter pal. Maybe it's the hormones but that doesn't exactly sound like a close, sisterly relationship. Although just when it seems like Maria might be a thorn in her mistress' side and upset the power balance, the story abandons this idea altogether and Maria recedes back into a harmless cherubic aid.
It's during Maria's pregnancy where Tulip Fever's plotting becomes its most tonally egregious, becoming a 17th century episode of Three's Company. Sophia's mission ever since her wedding has been to get pregnant and produce a son for her husband to carry on his family line, but due to a combination of erectile dysfunction and impotence, this seems like an unlikely task. So when Maria is pregnant, the two ladies scheme to do a switcheroo; they'll pretend that Sophia is really pregnant, downplay Maria's changes, and then pretend the newborn is Sophia's child. This plan leads to several almost comical sequences to maintain the ruse, like when Sophia pushes Maria aside to take claim over her recent spate of morning sickness. The entire time I kept thinking that wouldn't it be so much easier for Sophia just to get impregnated from her younger lover? Instead we're given this storyline that approaches farce, and that's not the end of it. Tulip Fever also features faking one's death, sending the drunkest person out to retrieve the most valuable item in the country, a character conscripted into the Navy immediately, and contrived mistaken identity developments that also require characters to never do any follow-up questions to confirm the worst of what they think they just witnessed. These kinds of farcical plot elements indicate that the filmmakers were not confidant that their central relationships could sustain a narrative unto themselves. And yet I'll admit that these unexpected plot turns provided a level of entertainment that was lacking beforehand.
The actors do what they can with their characters and marshal forward with straight faces. Vikander (The Light Between Oceans) is a luminescent actress who can communicate paragraphs through her tremulous eyes. She very capably conveys Sophia's mixed emotions over her marriage, her gnawing sense of loyalty, and when in the throes of passion, an unburdening that serves as a personal awakening. Sadly, those romantic throes are paired with DeHaan, an actor I'm becoming more and more skeptical with every new performance. In the recent sci-fi bomb Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, he chose to speak in a bizarre voice that mimicked 90s Keanu Reeves. With Tulip Fever, I understood the origin of that voice, because in this movie he sounds like 90s Keanu Reeves gamely attempting his woeful British accent in Dracula. Does Dane DeHaan have range or is he incapable of playing anything without ironic detachment? He makes for a pretty pitiful romantic affair option, and I never cared what transpired to him. Waltz (Spectre) becomes the most sympathetic character by the film's end and has a genuine character arc that might elicit some real emotion. He's pompous and a bit oblivious, but he never really becomes the film's villain. He doesn't mistreat Sophia. He doesn't threaten anyone. He just wants a child, and a wish he made to God haunts him. He truly cares about his wife, and it's only later that Sophia realizes what her plot machinations have done to this man. Waltz's performance is well within his nattering wheelhouse. The supporting cast includes Judi Dench, Cara Delevigne, a hilariously pervy Tom Hollander, Kevin McKidd, and an unrecognizable Zach Galifianakis. It's enough to make you wonder what in this story got them all here.
The story seems to exist only in parallel with the tulip market that gives the film its title. It feels like two different movies on different tracks that rarely come together. I hope you enjoy textbook economics lessons on market bubbles, because you'll get plenty information imported on the buying and selling power of tulips. These little flowers just kept going up and up in value and investors believed that they would never go down (oh how familiar this sounds). At times the movie hints at being a Big Short in 17th century tulips futures. This could be an interesting topic because of how foreign it is today, the thought of flowers being so valuable that a person's life savings might get squandered. However, the story that takes shape in Tulip Fever feels generally unrelated. It's a love affair with comical complications but the only time the bullish tulip market factors in is when supporting characters get rich quick from some lucky bulb prospects. They just as likely could have gotten their fortunes through any form of gambling. It didn't have to be tulips. The setting doesn't feel integral to the story the movie wants to tell, which is a waste of such a supremely unique moment in world economics history. Although there is a moment where Maria narrates that a madness took over people, and I so dearly wanted her to follow up that statement with, "A tulip madness." Unfortunately, she did not.
Tulip Fever is a costume drama that may have appeal for those usually left cold by the stuffy genre of half-glances and unrequited passions. It does have some screwy plotting linked to its screwy couple, so while it doesn't quite work as a developed story with engaging characters, it does make for a fitfully entertaining experience. The messy plotting and arbitrary coupling limit the power and empathy. I ultimately felt more for Waltz's character by the end than anyone else, and I don't know if that was intended. It's a handsomely made film with strong production design, costuming, and cinematography. If only the characters and their exploits were worthy of such efforts.
Nate's Grade: C
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