Tulip Fever (2017, USA, UK, d. Justin Chadwick, 107 minutes)
Tulip Fever is a hot mess, there’s no way of getting around it. As a film that has sat on the shelf for over two years, one has to wonder as to how many edits went into the film, because judging off the final product, a lot of cooks appeared to be in this kitchen.
Set in 17th century Amsterdam during the “Tulip Wars”, Tulip Fever finds Sophia (Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander), an orphan who is forcibly married to a rich merchant, Cornelis (Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz). The film unfolds three years into their marriage as Cornelis consistently uses his young wife for sex in desperate hopes for a child and it’s clear, through some rather awkward sex scenes, Sophia isn’t necessarily thrilled at the prospect of having a child with a man she doesn’t love. When Cornelis hires a young painter, Jan Von Loos (Dane DeHaan), to paint Sophia’s portrait, the young painter falls for Sophia and so the two begin an affair that jeopardizes everything.
Had Tulip Fever lived up to that premise, or told the story in a more clear-headed fashion, perhaps this film could’ve been something worth while, instead, with a surprisingly excessive amount of nudity, this feels more like a pay cable soap opera than anything.
The direction is fairly workmanlike. Director Justin Chadwick, who has shown himself to be very capable with the underrated 2013 film, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, doesn’t bring anything interesting with his direction.
Most of the acting here is fine, despite actors like Cara Delevingne and Zack Galifianakis given thankless roles and Dane DeHaan who is sorely miscast. With this and July’s Valerian, I fear Hollywood may not know what to do with Dehaan. He’s a very capable actor, but he’s neither the suave chap nor the hotshot gambler this film thinks he is. Judi Dench also makes a brief appearance as a Nun to brighten things up a bit. The period detail is on point. The lush costumes and settings are exquisitely done, so money was clearly spent, but it’s the screenwriting and editing that falter the most.
The drama is flat and is never interesting. The romance begins out of nowhere and despite the occasional spark between Vikander and DeHaan, you just never really care. The editing feels very disjointed with several jarring tonal shifts, and multiple character decisions that feel sudden and out of nowhere with no build up, whatsoever. None of this helps either, when the second half becomes home to far too many idiotic and manipulative contrivances among the characters that will have you wanting to yell “OH, COME ON” more than once. The film becomes so loony that by the time Vikander and her housemaid (Holliday Grainger) string together a plot to fake a pregnancy without her own husband knowing about it, you begin to feel as though the filmmakers were attempting a screwball comedy.
Despite a good cast and impressive period detail, Tulip Fever feels like a jumbled mesh between The Young and the Restless and The Tudors. Who would’ve thought a film with Cara Delevingne, Zack Galifianakis and Judi Dench would be this uninteresting.