by Callum Petch
A New York Winter’s Tale is fucking awful. It is so fucking awful that I feel justified in using the phrase “fucking awful”. Not “f*cking awful”, in my continuing attempts to keep my work at a PG level, not “frakkin’ awful”, in my continuing attempts to keep that PG rating and basically scream “LOOK AT ME, I AM SUCH A NERD ON THE INTERNET, NOTICE ME” at the top of my lungs. No. It is fucking awful. At the 1 hour mark, which is just over the halfway point of this near two hour exercise in unbearably earnest philosophical romanticised wank, I strongly considered leaving the cinema. I have never walked out of a film playing in the cinema and only once turned off a first-time-viewing of a movie because it sucked horrendously (Disaster Movie, if you’re wondering), and A New York Winter’s Tale came this close to beating me. I didn’t, more due to the principle of the thing, but the thought was seriously rattling around my brain. I could have left, snuck into another screen and saw The Lego Movie again instead, but I didn’t because I wasn’t going to let fucking A New York Winter’s Tale be the film to beat me.
And yet, even with that knowledge and the possibility that it may already be the year’s absolute worst film (although we do still have Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie to come, so it’s early days on that front), my task of reviewing A San Diego Summer’s Story is one fraught with difficulty and peril. See, under no circumstances should you see this film, but the problem is that I will have to describe the story, a story so batshit insane that people have been incarcerated in mental institutions for less, and I can almost guarantee that you will be compelled to give it a shot after hearing it; whether that be due to ironic appreciation for its dumbness, bile fascination or legitimate interest and excitement. And I am here to tell you, from the bottom of my heart and with the utmost sincerity, that to act on that compulsion and pay the people involved in the creation of this film money would be a really fucking dumb thing to do; almost as dumb as this film is.
The fact of the matter is that I could happily sit here and tear this film a new one for all manner of things that don’t revolve around the story of the film. The acting, for example, is atrocious across the board: Colin Farrell looks permanently lost and confused, Russell Crowe delivers the majority of his lines like he’s suffering from the onset of a stroke, Jennifer Connelly seems to be 10 seconds away from firing her agent, and Will Smith (yes, Will Smith is in this fi-STAY RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE AND KEEP READING) does an excellent impersonation of Will Smith on the other end of a phone call at 3am in the morning. Oh, and there are at least three precocious child actresses running about the place delivering the abysmal dialogue in as precisely a melodramatic “I AM ACTING, LOOK AT MY ACTING, CAN YOU TELL HOW HARD I AM ACTING COS I AM ALL THE ACTING” fashion as you’re imagining. Oh, sorry, my mistake. There are only two precocious child actresses running about the place. The third is Jessica Brown Findlay but she’s acting at the kids’ level, mind.
Oh, there’s also the CGI and effects in general! Fun Fact: this film cost $60 million to make. You wouldn’t be able to tell, mind, considering the fact that the film’s Pegasus (yes, this film has a peg-SIT THE FUCK DOWN AND FINISH READING) looks like it was ripped straight from the music video for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Californication” with wings that look like someone got bored halfway through implementing the CG and somehow successfully passed off their laziness by going “But it looks so much cooler that way!” to their superiors. And do not get me started on the exceedingly cheap and fake lens flare. We’re talking JJ Abrams levels of egregious lens fares, here, except that he actually works to make it look like they’re coming from the scene; instead of being inserted in post-production and looking like somebody spilt caramel all over various parts of the film.
There’s also the overly-maudlin and manipulative score that strains so badly to tug on at least one of your heartstrings that Keane are, as I type these words, working out a way to incorporate parts of it into their next album, but it’s time I stopped beating around the bush. I have to talk about the story and the plot and the first hour of this film. And, yes, I have to talk about the first hour of this film here because it’s near impossible to talk about the film otherwise. See, the marketing has positioned A Nottingham Spring’s Folly as a tale of forbidden romance that somehow transcends two centuries. Except that they’ve hidden a key element and, again, I guarantee that, when I tell you what that element is, you will abandon all common sense and try to see this film despite mounting evidence that you really, really shouldn’t.
Therefore, I am throwing up the Spoiler Warning and the “Have Common Sense and Don’t Go See This Movie No Matter What You May Read About It After This Warning” Warning now. I will not spoil anything outside of that first hour but the rest? Fair game, but that’s only because A Scunthorpe Fall’s Urban Legend is a slow burner. A really, really slow burner and it takes a full hour for it to fully reveal its setup, like it thinks it’s some kind of big mystery worth preserving. Again, unfortunately, the film is impossible to talk about otherwise. So, again, Spoiler Warning and Don’t Be An Idiot And See This Movie No Matter What You Think Of What You’re About To Read Warning are in effect. Proceed with caution.
So. The story. A Cape Town Autumn’s Blood-Writing-On-The-Walls Warning follows Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) who we first meet as a baby when his family get turned away from immigrating to Manhattan. Determined to leave their child behind in New York (for… your guess is as good as mine), they sneak him back into Manhattan on their boat ride out by stuffing him into a tiny model ship and pushing it towards the docks. This, by the way, occurs whilst the film spoils its other twist for you and a voiceover dumps out pseudo-philosophical bullcrap about how everything is connected and destiny and fates and all that. But, in any case, the film then jumps ahead 30 years to 1914 and we meet Peter again. He’s a thief, on the run from a gangster played by Russell Crowe called Pearly Soames (no, really, that’s his name) for reasons that… you know, I think the film just goes “because he’s evil” and leaves it at that. Other than an alleged betrayal by Peter, the film never seems to give a reason why Pearly (again, that’s his real name) has this extreme vendetta against him.
Anyways, Peter escapes by commandeering a horse that actually turns out to be a guardian angel disguised as a Pegasus. See, it turns out that Pearly (again, real name that people signed off on in an allegedly serious film) and his gangster associate underlings are demons. Agents of chaos working for Lucifer (played by… sigh, yes, Will Smith) who have made it their eternal life’s mission to kill off potential miracle makers before they turn into angels because they’re demons what you want more of an explanation? Anyways, Peter finds himself drawn to, by the universe, a dying woman by the name of Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay) and it seems like the miracle that the universe has insisted he perform is that of saving her life. By falling in love with her. After she catches him breaking into her house, as all great love stories begin. Of course, this being a tale of forbidden love, Pearly (again, actual name that graced a best-selling book) and his goons are hot on their heels. And by “hot on their heels”, I mean “there’s like a 35 minute window straight after the conflict is set up where nothing happens and Russell Crowe grimaces a lot”.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Callum, I saw The Adjustment Bureau and I thought it was alright, but the romance was a waste of a golden concept. Nevertheless, I am more than willing to stomach another tale of forbidden romance for the chance to see angels and demons fighting each other and also WILL SMITH IS LUCIFER HOW CAN I PASS THAT UP?” Well, firstly, there are no fight scenes between angels and demons, sorry to get your hopes up. But, I admit, the premise sounds like prime “So Bad, It’s Good” material. The kind of terrible film you love to watch to snark at repeatedly and violently. This, again, is a film that, in the first five minutes, has two characters smuggle our lead into the country in a model ship for no discernable reason. Except that there’s one thing keeping this from being some kind of Andy Kaufman-esque piece of deliberate, straight-faced anti-comedy: it’s dull. It is endlessly, crushingly, miserably dull.
Oh, sure, it’s not to start with. Again, I guffawed like a madman at the image of a baby in a model ship floating towards the New York harbour. I tried really hard to suppress my tittering when Beverly started earnestly talking about her belief in light connecting every living being. I reflexively let out a huge laugh when Pearly (again, his real name, not a cross-gender version of Pearl from Spongebob Squarepants) murders a waiter for no reason other than to reveal to the viewer that he’s a demon. And, of course, there was some kind of strange noise meant to represent disbelief that emanated from me at the Pegasus reveal. Here’s the problem: that’s where the film stops being funny. Like, it’s so committed to its world and so committed to being this big grandiose statement about the power of love, goodness and righteous virtue and so committed to being so po-faced serious about the whole ordeal (even when it has a scene in which Will Smith as Lucifer rants about being stuck in a mortal body and how he hates sunshine and lollipops and new-born babies and all that jazz) that it stops being fun to laugh at. It’s so committed that it just becomes sad.
And if you were coming to this film seriously, as in you were looking for a grand old inspiring tale of romance for the ages, well I’m afraid that you’re shit out of luck in that department. Despite the film stopping to a halt for about 30 minutes so that it can truly sell you on the romance that Peter and Beverly have, it doesn’t work at all. Farrell and Findlay have no chemistry, the dialogue between the pair is atrocious (Peter genuinely says, when he’s questioned by Beverly as to what the favourite thing he’s stolen is, “I’m beginning to think I haven’t stolen it yet”), and both of them decide they love each other totally despite only having known each other for about 48 hours by the time Pearly (again, real name, not an alter-ego on Match.com) catches up to them. Peter tries to cure Beverly’s tuberculosis (sorry, consumption) by teaching her his super-special-safe-cracker-breathing rate tricks. Beverly’s irritating kid sister showcases a greenhouse decked out to look like the glass coffin from Snow White in what is one of the more subtle pieces of foreshadowing and symbolism in this film. They dance. They have sex. There, that is everything this whirlwind romance for the ages encompasses. No, literally, that is everything that happens before the final 30/40 minutes kick in.
And OH GODS, THOSE FINAL 30/40 MINUTES. The only reason I don’t tell you what happens in them and how they are, somehow, even stupider, even duller and even more poorly paced than the preceding 70 is because this is a review, and some people may be using it as consumer advice on whether this film is worth seeing or not and it is bad form for me, as a reviewer, to spoil the end of a film for the uninitiated. Rest assured, however, that weren’t that unwritten entry into the code of reviewer ethics there, I would be gladly telling you everything that happens in there. Both because it would complete my goal in giving you absolutely zero reason to watch this film, seeing as you’d already know what happens, and because I still can’t quite believe I actually witnessed it. Like, I expect to wake up any second now and find that I slept through the entire thing. No studio-based film is this relentlessly crazy, this relentlessly bad and this relentlessly, miserably dull about its craziness and badness, right?
Alas, I think it might be. The realisation is finally setting in that I did not, in fact, imagine A New York Winter’s Tale. This film actually happened, was completely serious about what happened and it is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Unfortunately, I also know how people act and there will now be some of you salivating over this film: eager to add it to your future Bad Movie Night marathons or to go and pay money and/or devote two hours of your life to seeing if it really is as terrible as I am making out. From the bottom of my heart, I implore you to eject those thoughts and go about your daily life. You have one life to live and the two hours you would end up spending on this god-awful piece of utter shite in a 99p burger would be interminable and could be spent so much more productively or doing things that would make you happy. Folks: it’s not even fun to make fun of. Doing so is equivalent to picking on the kid who likes to imagine he’s flying a spaceship all the time, until you find out that he’s got genuine mental health problems and he genuinely thinks he’s flying a spaceship all the time.
To reiterate: A New York Winter’s Tale is fucking awful. End of debate. Stay the hell away.