Valentine’s Day is a playground of eyebrow-raising romance flicks fulfilling last-ditch dates for couples everywhere. Enter the intensely earnest, comically florid Winter’s Tale, which hurls forced magic and breathless declarations of love at full bombast and hopes—optimistically—things come together.
There’s always space in the imagination for a more magical world sidelong to ours; Mark Helprin’s novel is considered an exemplar of the genre, though one assumes a loss in translation. Winter’s Tale positively blisters to recreate a magical Edwardian New York, in which goodhearted thief Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) is led by his flying horse to Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay), whose late-stage consumption has made her a winsomely overheated dream girl. Their affair carries manufactured urgency, as each of them, unbeknownst, is pre-loaded with a miracle, and demon Soames (Russell Crowe) wants to kill Peter before he can deploy his for Beverly.
Farrell and Findlay aren’t without appeal. Farrell coasts on soulful charm, and director Akiva Goldsman shoots Findlay with nouveau ardor. But Beverly’s too idyllic to leave an impression, and Farrell becomes increasingly stilted, as if slowly realizing he’s in the sort of movie where voiceovers assure us that stars are happy souls. And Crowe’s got marble-chewing game in his one-dimensional feud with Peter, even when applying to “judge” Lucifer—a smooth if bemused Will Smith—for hunting rights. Certainly Hell’s a zoning office, but the halfhearted mythology remains less cohesive than the celestial feud in I, Frankenstein.
Soames’ dogged pursuit overcrowds the film’s second act, in which ageless, amnesiac Peter emerges in the present and becomes involved with a journalist (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter, but by then, the earnestness has hit critical levels. All the half-whispered aphorisms in New York couldn’t save Winter’s Tale from becoming an overblown chapter in the cinema opus.