- Tulip Fever
- Composed by
- Deborah Moggach and Tom Stoppard
- Directed by
- Justin Chadwick
- Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Christoph Waltz and Zach Galifianakis
Tulip Fever, a romantic drama set during Amsterdam’s Tulip Mania of the 1630s, and eventually being published Sept. 1, has already become the stuff of Hollywood lore. It was first optioned as a film in 2000 before its writer Deborah Moggach had seen it rise to a bestseller. Then some funding woes in 2004 left the job withering for a decade before 2014. First John Madden was set to lead, then Steven Spielberg wanted it, then Harry Styles was offered the lead, then it was screened at Cannes in 2015, then its launch was pushed four occasions. All that to say, Tulip Fever is a movie a-swirl in what-ifs and what-could-have-beens. The years-long anticipation of its arrival has only heightened the stakes for what is — what perhaps always would have been a benign historical romp through some blossoms.
This homage to Dutch painting and the hot tulip market was finally led by Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl), with climbing megastar and Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina, The Danish Girl), Christoph Waltz (a Quentin Tarantino favorite), and relative newcomer Dane DeHaan (Two Lovers and a Bear) as beauty, passion, and cuckold, respectively.
Vikander’s Sophia is an orphan turned woman of the house who’s thankful to her much older husband, Waltz as Cornelis Sandvoort, for rescuing her from a life of poverty. This gratitude is borne out every night as she dutifully attempts to conceive his infant — apparently her raison d’être at the home — when along comes a hot young painter (enter DeHaan as struggling artist Jan) prepared to immortalize the couple’s likeness in oil on wood until he inevitably falls in love with Sophia.
Vikander is as mesmerizing as Scarlett Johansson was in that other Dutch-painter-falls-for-his-muse blockbuster, Girl with a Pearl Earring. Both girls possess a classical beauty so perfect that the notion of anybody getting completely obsessed with their picture feels about right and totally correct. Nonetheless, the chemistry is not quite there involving Vikander and DeHaan — that might just be the consequence of an over-edited movie trying too tough for magical and leaving most of it on the cutting-room floor. DeHaan was superb in Kim Nguyen’s Two Lovers and a Bear reverse Tatiana Maslany, so he has the chops as a leading man, but in Tulip Fever the pacing is too jumpy and the plot too overwrought because of his trendy charm to perform its meandering thing.
The supporting cast is sometimes uneven, too, with Zach Galifianakis, whose antics are typically magical (if harebrained), missing the mark of 17th-century sidekick. But then there’s the incomparable Judi Dench as an Abbess and wise overseer of the tulip patch, who should have gotten more screen time. A rule to live by when grasping at straws to save a potentially doomed film — be aware Harvey Weinstein — is to always throw in more Dench, constantly.
Tulip Fever has a variety of things going for it, like a rich palette of colors and grand costumes, a gorgeous leading lady, and enough satisfying hijinks to entertain for a while. It’s your run-of-the mill period drama which plays it safe — surely not daring enough to violate or to really captivate. It lacks the warmth of this rollicking tulip trade it attempts to portray and the flame of the illicit love about which the movie centres. It’s fine. However, it’s also a little lost in its own manifestation, searching futilely for the magic it cut years ago.