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Winter’s Tale: If You Are Looking For Romance On Valentine’s Day… Look Elsewhere

Admittedly it's my fault that the only things I knew about this movie is what I'd garnered from the trailer, as I somehow missed this book when it came out in the early '80s, even though it is entirely the kind of story my pre-teen self would have adored. Perhaps if I'd even seen the book cover I'd have been more prepared for the fantasy elements of this story, as the trailer made it seem more like an epic love story about a man who stayed alive in order to see the woman he loved again. It also led me to believe this was a reincarnation tale, or something of that ilk, not a tale of a battle between good and evil. After sitting through the two hours of the movie, I feel like that time could have been better spent sitting down and reading the beloved book, because the special effects elements make this lofty tale into a silly parade through time.

In the first few minutes of the movie, a young immigrant couple decide that instead of taking their child back to Ireland (after they've been denied entrance to America), their best option is to put the small infant in a scale model boat and throw him into the Atlantic Ocean. Because possible death by drowning at sea is clearly the solution? Shortly after that we jump to 1916, where we see that the baby survived and he's grown into Peter Lake (Colin Farrell), a thief who is having an unfortunate run-ins with his former boss Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), when he's rescued by a gorgeous white Pegasus who he dubs "Horse" and who for me is the scene-stealing star of this film. Did I mention that Pearly has glinty eyes and when he gets angry his entire face veins out like he's the Beast in that cheesy CW show? And Pearly can make prophecies based on how the light sparkles on some gems? And that we're hit over the head about every five minutes by the narrator Beverly (Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay) talking about stars and how they shine, with stuff sparkling all over the place? This movie almost has more blinding starlight than a J.J. Abrams movie has lens flares.

Peter is trying to hightail it out of town before veiny Pearly gets him, but he stops to rob a few places along the way, which is when he runs across Beverly Penn, a 21-year-old woman who is dying of consumption and residing on the roof of her father's home in order to stay cold at all costs. The scenes with her walking around breathless have a lovely air of romance, and Findlay does well as a dying ingenue. (It's only mildly creepy -- and never addressed -- that Peter, who has to be nearly twice her age, is immediately smitten with her.) After Pearly sees Bev in a vision (fingerpainted in blood, no less) he sends out a crude portrait (really just a giant red smudge) and one of his minions somehow spots Beverly heading to her family's winter estate and recognizes her. Peter swoops in just in time, and rescues her from Pearly's grasp and flies her -- on Horse's pegasus wings! -- to her mansion upstate, out of Pearly's purview. Turns out that Pearly is a demon works for good old Lucifer, and he's tied to Manhattan and the five boroughs, so he's out of luck since Bev's father and sister don't winter in Staten Island. Pearly goes to Lucifer (a cameo that's so good and laughable that I dare not be the one to spoil it) who is wearing, in 1916, a blazer and a T-shirt with a design on it and multiple earrings for good measure. Lucifer refuses to give Pearly dispensation to go north, even if it means that Peter might use his one miracle, presumably to save the dying redhead.

After being grilled by Beverly's father (William Hurt) about his intentions in a scene with some ridiculous dialogue, Peter endears himself to the entire family including Beverly's sister Willa (an adorable McKayla Twiggs) who has concocted a fairy tale princess plan to keep Beverly alive with True Love's Kiss. I half expected a Disney song to start playing at some point. But Pearly finds a way to cut Bev's life short, and Willa's plan doesn't work. So a miserable Peter winds up on the Brooklyn Bridge getting the crap beaten out of him by Pearly and company, because he's lost interest in life now that Beverly's gone. He's left for dead and wakes up nearly a hundred years later in 2014 and has no idea who he is, but a trip to his old hide out in the ceiling of Grand Central Station (that he can easily access, even with modern security measures since he's an amazing thief) helps refresh his memory. He continues to do his shitty chalk drawings of the redhead looking at the moon, on a daily basis around the city, like a really terrible version of Banksy, until he stumbles across Virginia Gamely (an underutilized Jennifer Connelly), who helps him reunite with Young Willa (who must be nearing 110 at this point, but looks like a spry 80 if she's a day) and he realizes his true purpose for living all these years.

Winter's Tale could have been a sweet Valentine's Day movie, but it comes across as smarmy, especially with the heavy-handed voiceover work that peppers the proceedings. And Crowe is just ridiculous as the demon Pearly; his scenes with Lucifer are laugh out loud funny in the most unintentional way. There are so many small details that just don't add up, and the fantasy elements aren't special enough to distract from the multitude of problems that I could spend paragraphs going on about. The real problem is that director Akiva Goldsman clearly had a big story to tell, one that dives deep into both the romance and this angel/demon battle, and he lacks the room to properly tell it in this under two-hour runtime. While the Beverly story gets a lot of screentime, the history between Pearly and Peter is a blip on the map and we never get to know enough about Virginia to really care about her personal plight. And while the early 1900s period setting actually looks quite lovely (particularly the scenes with at either of Beverly's homes), the money was clearly spent there instead of on special effects, because there's a scene late in the movie with sinking cars into ice that is so awkwardly shot and edited that it looks like a bad slo-motion youtube video. Instead of a sweet treat for Valentine's this film left an overall sour note, though if you are looking for unintentional laughs and your date enjoys head-scratching post-film conversations about things that don't make sense, this might be the perfect date movie.

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