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Movie Review: 'Tulip Fever'

Christoph Waltz is the only good thing about silly 'Tulip Fever.'

By Sean PatrickPublished 7 years ago 3 min read

Tulip Fever tells the story of an orphan girl named Sophia who is plucked from a Dutch orphanage to become the wife/concubine of a rich trader named Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz). Sophia’s life is a relatively dull routine but nothing she really notices as, aside from the orphanage, it’s all she’s ever known. Sophia’s worldview changes when the outside world comes crashing into her secluded domesticity in the form of a lusty painter named Jan Van Loos (Dane Dehaan) who awakens the kind of desire within Sophia that her arranged marriage could never possibly create.

Not a bad story? So why is Tulip Fever such silly nonsense? It’s illogical. Director Justin Chadwick covered similar period drama lustiness in The Other Boleyn Girl to fine effect and Tom Stoppard won an Academy Award for writing Shakespeare in Love and also wrote Brazil and Empire of the Sun. Add to this the rising star Alicia Vikander, two time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz and the ingredients are here for an incredible film. Tulip Fever even has Academy Award winner Judi Dench and it’s still a miserable sit.

The simple fact is that the simple plot I described has been done to death. Stoppard’s own Shakespeare in Love is little more than a less haughty and more prestigious version of this same story. To attempt to escape the notion that the film is a poor copy of previous period movies, Tulip Fever adds two more characters and convoluted plot about faked pregnancy and a faked death and while the plot wheels spin in desperate effort to avoid repeating period cliché we in the audience grow ever more weary of the whirring, blurring silliness of the plot.

Jack O’Connell and Holliday Grainger play Willem and Maria. Maria is Sophia’s servant and Willem is the local fish-monger. They’ve fallen madly and love and Willem has a plan for them to escape servitude. Willem is entering the high stakes trade of Tulips which have become the hottest commodity in all of Denmark at this time. When Willem comes into luck, growing a rare Tulip that could get he and Maria out of their poverty only the lame contrivance of the plot can intervene and boy does it.

Tulip Fever hinges upon one of those silly misunderstandings that could be avoided if characters acted reasonably. But, of course, if the characters acted reasonably, the artless plot couldn’t grind forward and we’d miss out on even more poorly constructed plot nonsense and Alicia Vikander’s almost constant tearfulness. Her sadness is warranted as she is at the mercy of this perplexed plot but it doesn’t make it any less boring to watch.

There is nothing really wrong with any of the performances in Tulip Fever, including the oft-maligned Dane Dehaan. Christoph Waltz, in fact, delivers a wonderfully sad and tender performance as the one kind character in the film. It’s a nice bit of subversive casting, in fact, as Waltz has become so much associated with villain roles it acts almost as a plot propellant that Waltz is in this role. We in the audience are well-trained to watch out for Waltz to outsmart our main characters. That he’s playing just a gentle, grieving man in Tulip Fever is a nice twist wasted by a gutless story.

Tulip Fever is one of those modern Hollywood movies wherein though the protagonists do terrible things outside factors require that they not be portrayed as villains or punished for their misdeeds. Hollywood doesn’t make movies where selfish, mean characters are leads in movies and Tulip Fever demonstrates this better than most gutless modern movies by letting everyone off the hook with an unearned ending that while it may not give everyone what they want, it’s far too pat and easy for it to be taken seriously.

So what does that leave? The sex? The sex is sexy in Tulip Fever. Everyone here is far more attractive than their period counterparts ever could have been and director Chadwick along with Cinematographer Eigil Bryld capture every lovely inch of Alicia Vikander’s perfection. Then again, the film also repeatedly captures Christoph Waltz urinating in a pot and using military lingo in bed with his wife as they forcefully attempt to conceive a child so I guess things even out on the pleasure to pain scale in Tulip Fever.

Those with only a prurient interest in Tulip Fever can get their fill of it from the recent Red-Band trailer which contains as much of the nudity that the movie promises and you don’t have to suffer the silly, convoluted plot. Despite all of the promise of a great writer, director, main and supporting cast, Tulip Fever is just far too silly and cowardly to be taken as seriously as it takes itself.


About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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