Summer season is slowly winding down and before For Your Consideration campaigns begin, there’s that window of time in the release schedule used to desperately fit in random movies that don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell when faced with potential Oscar contenders. Tulip Fever was once touted to be the Weinstein Company’s hot ticket for another golden baldie. How things change…
First screened at Cannes in 2015, the project has become somewhat infamous for its multiple delays, having been pulled from 2016’s roster. Now, unceremoniously dumped at the end of this year’s blockbuster season, Tulip Fever finally reveals itself as a textbook example of abortive Oscar bait. It has all the makings of a hit, with Oscar-winners Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz and Judi Dench starring and playwright Tom Stoppard adapting a bestselling novel about forbidden love between a commissioned painter and his married subject, set against the daft-sounding but far more interesting backdrop of tulip mania in 17th century Holland. It’s even in the capable hands of Justin Chadwick, the man behind The Other Boleyn Girl and Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. The filmmaker delivers a handsome but unremarkable historical drama that has the unique selling point of making the audience root against the two romantic leads (Vikander and Dane DeHaan, having a shocker of a year), who come off as unintentionally punchable. They are not best served by a script which includes jarring narrative jumps and inadvertently ridiculous dialogue, one which causes tonal whiplash as it violently oscillates between serious, Girl With A Pearl Earring-riffing dramatics and Richard Curtis levels of farce.
Ultimately, it’s the sort of risk-free costume drama that you’d stumble upon on a rainy Sunday afternoon and, in your hungover state, mistakenly leave on in the background because you’re counting how many times a ruff-wearing Christoph Waltz refers to his penis as his “little soldier” pre-coitus, and because Judi Dench as a wily Abbess of a convent who supervises tulip production is brilliantly stupid.
Tulip Fever | Directed by Justin Chadwick (UK/US 2015), with Dane DeHaan, Alicia Vikander, Christoph Waltz, Judi Dench. Starts August 24
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