2017, R, 107 min. Directed by Justin Chadwick. Starring Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Jack O'Connell, Zach Galifianakis, Christoph Waltz, Holliday Grainger, Tom Hollander, Judi Dench.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 8, 2017
It’s hard to see past the restrictive ruffs and wimples and corsets, but the whole cast might be shrugging their way through Tulip Fever, a romantic drama set in 17th century Amsterdam. Filmed three years ago and bounced around the release calendar ever since, the Weinstein Company finally – indifferently – dropped it into theatres Sept. 1, where it has unsurprisingly died on the vine. “Indifferent” is the watch word of Tulip Fever. Despite the pulpy potential – the story, from Deborah Moggach’s novel of the same name, twines Amsterdam’s hysteria over the rare tulip trade with a married woman’s affair with her portrait artist – director Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) and screenwriter Tom Stoppard (who won the Oscar for Shakespeare in Love) can’t find a pulse, let alone set the heart racing.
Playing Sophia, an orphan-turned-May-bride to Christoph Waltz’s graybeard groom, Vikander is so delicate with conveying emotions you might suspect her of having none at all. Or maybe she just couldn’t muster the energy for the miscast Dane DeHaan as her painter paramour. Ostensibly aflame with erotic passion, his art, and the get-rich-quick temptations of tulip speculation, the puppyish DeHaan gives an energetic but not spirited performance. He lacks the conviction required to make sense of Sophia’s ardor.
For spots of interest, you’ll have to scan to the edge of the canvas – to Holliday Grainger and Jack O’Connell as a pair of low-born lovers (the film would’ve been better served by casting them in the lead roles instead), and to the dryly comic work of Tom Hollander, as an unscrupulous doctor, and Judi Dench, as a flinty nun. As for Zach Galifianakis, playing a dim-witted drunk – file his role under head-scratching: Namely, how exactly did this tertiary, totally forgettable character become the film’s third-act fulcrum? That’s not Galifianakis’ fault, but rather that of Stoppard’s script, in which motivations are fuzzy and characters’ wants seem to turn on a dime, adding up to a picture that is not so much fevered as addled.