This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Director: Justin Chadwick
Never underestimate the profound impact of human connection. Studies reveal that patients who experienced a certain trauma alongside another person or group were more likely to feel stronger in the situation as well as recover at a faster rate. In other words, it’s harder to go through traumatic events alone. Which is why I think TULIP FEVER would have been at least a little bit tolerable if I hadn’t been the only person in the cinema. I sat in the middle of the theatre waiting for the trailers to end, casually popping chocolate-chip Teddy Grahams into my mouth—totally unaware of the terror I was about to experience for the next 107 minutes. The hardest 107 minutes of my life, might I add, and I’ve been dragged to Soul Cycle early in the morning.
I don’t know what this film does best: shuffle in a slew of bland characters who contribute nothing to the story, or continually bounce back and forth between uninteresting, imbecilic subplots. The film centers on Sophia (Alicia Vikander)—an orphan girl sold off to rich businessman Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz)—and her affair with the young painter Jan van Loos (Dane DeHaan). While Sophia sneaks off to see her forbidden lover, her handmaid and the narrator of the film, Maria (Holliday Grainger), busies herself just as much with the local fishmonger William (Jack O’Connell). Along the way the film manages to squeeze in other big names like Judi Dench and Zach Galifiankis, but no amount of name-dropping will give this film the attention it desires but so obviously does not deserve—especially when these supporting characters exist for only one purpose and then disappear for most of the film. Even Matthew Morrison shows up at one point just to hold DeHaan as he cries. Unimportant and insignificant characters come in and out of the storyline with no substance or purpose.
When you check the time during the movie and see that you still have to trudge through an hour of this garbage
It was terrible; especially watching it alone. No one to mockingly laugh with when more ill-witted, self-absorbed characters thought they had something clever to say—which they never did. I looked around to see if anybody else could hear the cringe-worthy, garbage dialogue lifelessly floating between characters. It appalled me that someone greenlit a movie as vapid as this. That somebody read, “I think my little soldier is ready tonight” on paper and thought, “Wow, I’d love to see Christoph Waltz try out all the maritime and militia sex references in the world.” (And he refers to his penis as his “little soldier” not once or twice, but thrice.)
I understand that the sex scenes with Waltz and Vikander play out awkwardly to emphasize all the love in Sophia’s new relationship with Jan. But the thing is—there’s just no passion between Vikander and DeHaan. Shot and paced awkwardly, their initial meeting comes off more like they just want to squint at each other for extended periods of time. Their scenes of flirtation merely surpass the level of lifeless stares and unwarranted sexy breathing. I swear, after only two short scenes where Jan paints Sophia, she goes over to his house uninvited, and without a word to one another, they start having sex. Either the dialogue was too forgettable or too paltry, but I didn’t even know they knew each other’s names at that point. The film does not compel me to feel anything towards these characters, and because of that it is near impossible to sympathize or connect with them—with any of them, really.
Auctioning off the script for TULIP FEVER, starting bid $1.25
As Sophia and Jan’s relationship blossoms through frivolous conversations and surprisingly subpar sex scenes, her marital issues and general nuisances fail to create any sympathy for her whatsoever. None of Sophia’s relationships seem real, and subsequently, the complications that stem from them just don’t carry as much weight as they attempt to. Although I love Alicia Vikander, Sophia has such a forgettable personality that her character stands as one so flat she makes maps look like globes. She’s also a terrible human being. Sophia fakes a pregnancy and a death, all in one act. The film manages to do all this and still finds time to include a whole segment about the booming tulip industry in 17th century Amsterdam, as well as a romantic subplot between Maria and the fishmonger. And even Cara Delevingne shows up at one point, because why not (she seems to be the final nail on the why-this-film-is-bad coffin).
Overall, TULIP FEVER is just very confused with itself. It does not know what its main storyline is, who it wants audiences to root for, or even who its real antagonist is—because there are too many incoherent subplots. This convoluted story doesn’t know what it wants, or where it is headed. As Jan squints at Sophia for the nth time while he paints her, Cornelis notices a tulip petal fall and says, “First to flower, first to fall.” I have to disagree, because while TULIP FEVER never flowers, it manages to fall anyway. It took three years for this film to reach theatres, and I’m not surprised why. I admire the effort it took to navigate the labyrinth that is post-production purgatory, but maybe TULIP FEVER should have just given up and wilted away.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend