It sucks having someone close to you die. The kids in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events don’t take it too rough, although perhaps they’re used to it or maybe they’re just very mature for their ages. The three Baudelaire children (Violet, Klaus and Sunny) are told by Mr. Poe (Timothy Spall) that something tragic has occurred: They’re parents have been killed in a house fire. There are no tears shed by these children, and soon enough they’re on their way to live with their “uncle,” a man named Count Olaf (Jim Carrey).
Let’s go over these children just like the film does. The oldest is Violet (Emily Browning) at 14 years of age. Her quirk, if you want to call it that, is that she likes inventing things. She’ll tie her hair up with a ribbon and basically come up with a bunch of interesting things out of discarded household items. Next is Klaus (Liam Aiken), who reads a lot of books and has a (seemingly) eidetic memory. Finally, we have the youngest, an infant named Sunny (played by Kara and Shelby Hoffman — yes, Hoffman). While Sunny shows more intelligence than you’d expect from an infant, being able to understand everyone else perfectly, she can’t speak with real words yet, and delivers all of her dialogue in baby talk. We get subtitles to understand what she says, and the other Baudelaire children don’t even need the subtitles, but adults don’t comprehend when she frequently mocks them.
Now, Count Olaf is a man who makes you wonder whether or not his title has been somehow misspelled. It’s clear to us, although maybe not to the children, early on that he decided to “generously” adopt the children so that he can inherit the fortune their parents left them. How he plans to do that is something I won’t reveal, although his methods are complex and fierce. He is only the first of the guardians that the children will have in this film, though, as they’ll eventually be passed on to a scientist who studies snakes (Billy Connolly) and a neurotic woman who lives at sea (Meryl Streep). All the while, the count lurks and schemes.
There isn’t really much of a plot from the children’s perspectives. They just kind of drift from scene to scene, not able to change events or impact their own futures. It’s not made clear just when A Series of Unfortunate Events is set, but it is clear that children are unable to have a say in anything. I’ve had parents recite stories of being slapped for even speaking without first being spoken to, and it seems this is the type of society the children in this film live in. Even when Olaf reappears in a disguise that they see right through, nobody will listen to them because, well, they’re children and they don’t deserve the attention.
Presenting the film to us is a man masquerading as Lemony Snicket (Jude Law), who purports to be writing the story as we’re watching it. After a jump scene occurs, his typewriter jams, and we have to pause the scene for him to fix it. Comedic is his timing and his prose, although having a narrator isn’t always beneficial to a film, especially one that’s supposed to be focused on these orphans. I liked listening to Law’s narration, but it did distract from what the film is about.
There’s something going on under the surface of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but I’m not entirely sure what it is. While looking through the remains of their house, Klaus notes that his parents had a spyglass, and wondered what it was for. The other guardians (apart from Olaf) each have one as well. But what are they for? Apart from a short, unsatisfactory answer, it’s not explained. I understand that there have been a great deal of books in this series, and that this film is an adaptation of three of them, but including a plot point like this that exists but doesn’t mean anything fails to work in this context. Excluding it would have cut down on both runtime and exposition, while also not leaving the audience feeling like they missed something that the film never bothered to explain.
Apart from that digression that never goes anywhere, this is a film that moves along at a brisk pace that includes enough humor and adventure to keep an audience entertained. I can’t remember being often bored while watching it, and there’s always something to look out for. Whether it be Carrey acting as silly and over-the-top as possible, the amazing set and costume design, or the random and unexpected cameos that appear throughout, I was always engaged. I laughed frequently — some sites list this as a black comedy, while others say it’s just a comedy — and generally had a good time.
I liked most of the actors here. Carrey steals the show (in terms of the adults), and there’s a noticeable drop off in energy whenever he decides to take a short break from showing everyone up. Emily Browning is the highlight out of the older children, actually showing emotion unlike her male counterpart, although it’ll be the Hoffman twins that will likely leave the biggest impression on you. Whether it be from the comedic timing of random baby noises or the captions telling us just what they mean, the character of Sunny gets the most laughs, while also being adorable.
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is a fun film that needed a tighter focus in order to be great. Despite that, the cast is enjoyable, it’s wicked funny, there’s enough manic action to keep your heart rate up, and the set design and costuming are both gorgeous. To top it all off, there are more than a few big name cameos to keep an eye out for. This is a film that’s really enjoyable and is fun for people of all ages.