108 Min. | Adventure – Comedy – Family | December 2004
IMDB Rating: 6.8
Director: Brad Silberling
Staring: Jim Carrey, Jude Law, Meryl Streep
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Review: If your childhood was anything like mine, at some point you whined to your parents or another adult, “That’s not fair!” at which point the adult blithely retorted, “Life’s not fair.” A hard lesson, sure, but one we all learn eventually, life isn’t fair, people die, bad things happen to good people, and justice isn’t always served. Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” books, in which siblings Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire start off being orphaned by a fire and then having things go downhill from there, embraces that philosophy with a dark, sly humor that is irresistible. Fortunately, Brad Silberling has kept the spirit of the series mostly intact with Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events translation. The movie encompasses Snicket’s first three books, in which Violet (Emily Browing), Klaus (Liam Aiken), and Sunny are foisted off on several guardians by the dimwitted executor of their parents’ estate (Timothy Spall).
The first and worst of these is Count Olaf (Jim Carrey), a thorough scoundrel who’s after the kids’ immense inheritance. The children manage to escape, and over the course of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events encounter a kindly snake enthusiast (Billy Connolly) and an ultra-hypochondriac (Meryl Streep), each of whom try to look after the children in their own way. But mostly the Baudelaires look after themselves, each resourceful in their own way, Violet invents contraptions with whatever is at hand, Klaus is a reference desk unto himself, and baby Sunny practices her teething on whatever (or whoever) is convenient. The trio share the sort of unique bond that can only come from having survived a long string of misadventures. Olaf pursues them throughout, aided by disguises which he considers brilliant and which fool everyone except, of course, the ever-observant Baudelaires.
Most of the elements which make Snicket’s books so appealing are present here, the entertaining characters, the cleverness of the children, Snicket’s delightful black humor, and even the cunning reverse-psychology promotional scheme of the series. Carrey gleefully gnaws the scenery as Olaf, and indeed with such a character he can do no less. Browning and Aiken are quite appealing, but the real scene stealer is Sunny. Sunny does not actually speak, but her coos and gurgles are translated via subtitle in a dry and witty manner. The production design creates a fanciful but accessible world which modern inventions like remote car-keys are wielded by characters who dress like they just stepped out of a Victorian melodrama. It is perhaps too much to ask that Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events could have avoided a Hollywood-style attempt to soften its delightfully dreary outlook, or that Carrey could have gone the entire movie without having at least one sequence in which he’s just required to be Jim Carrey. But this is kept to a minimum, as Violet herself says, there really is more good than bad here.