Since 1999, Lemony Snicket's books about the Baudelaire orphans have sold more than 18 million copies around the world. The mysterious author has been called a fraud, a criminal, a fictional character, an unreliable narrator, and, most recently, the voice of Jude Law, which may or may not play him in the film.
The Baudelaire siblings are likable and clever, and so are the young actors cast as them. Violet (Emily Browning), age 14, is one of the greatest young inventors the world has ever known. Her brother Klaus (Liam Aiken), age 12, is a reader and researcher of extraordinary knowledge and skill. And their baby sister Sunny (Kara Hoffman and Shelby Hoffman) has sharper teeth than most beavers.
Unfortunately, none of this can alter the fact that after their parents perish in a terrible fire, the Baudelaires are placed in the care of Count Olaf, a man who is either a demented evil genius, an egomaniacal actor, Jim Carrey, or all three. Aided by a troupe of theatrical misfits, he hatches one outrageous plot after another to get his hands on the orphans' vast inheritance, like the one involving the train.
After not being run over by a train, the Baudelaire children are removed from Count Olaf's care and go to live with their Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly), a renowned snake expert. Things end badly after the arrival of a suspicious lab assistant named Stephano, a phrase which here means "Count Olaf in disguise." The children are then shuffled off to their fearful Aunt Josephine's (Meryl Streep). Sadly, disaster ensues, due to the appearance of a mysterious peg-legged sailor, an expression which here means, "Would Jim Carrey with a peg-leg fool you?" Alarmingly, Count Olaf then hatches the most dastardly plot of all--a play whose real-life conclusion will give him control of the Baudelaire fortune!
The Baudelaires will have to stick together and use every ounce of courage, ingenuity, and strong rope at their disposal if they are to stop Count Olaf. They may also require a different script. Regardless, the Series of Unfortunate Events they confront is sure to leave viewers of all ages in utter hysterics.
From beginning to end, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events has a delightfully quirky vibe to its storytelling. It presents itself as relentlessly pessimistic, but in the entertaining fashion of a good dark comedy. The world in which it exists is never pinned down to a particular era or place, giving it the timeless quality of a fairy tale. And yet there are occasional offbeat references to modern life, the silliest and funniest being a cameo by the AFLAC duck.
Jim Carrey is great as the comically villainous Count Olaf, a wickedly awful actor who uses a series of bad disguises in his efforts to seize the Baudelaire orphans' inheritance. And while Olaf has free reign to constantly ham it up, Carrey himself doesn't get annoyingly manic as one might expect. Any over the top antics in the performance are meant to exaggerate Olaf, not necessarily put the spotlight on Carrey. In fact, if there is any scene stealing going it, it's being done by the kids. Emily Browning, Liam Aiken, and the twins who play the Baudelaire infant are all very good, portraying a trio of characters who are resourceful and inventive.
While the story of orphans looking for a place to call home may seem typical, there is definitely something unique and original in the way it is presented. A Series of Unfortunate Events is a fantastic tale that could be the start of a new film franchise, and it is easily one of the most imaginative movies of the year.
About the Books
The official website for this film pretty much sums up the delightfully quirky tone of the story. The movie is based on a series of books (there are eleven to date) penned by pseudonymed writer Lemony Snicket. Summing up the offbeat humor from the start, an introduction by the author reads, "If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle." It's all terribly gloomy, but in a hilariously caricatured way.