“Winter’s Tale is a discombobulated mess of a plot. It features poor acting from some fine actors. It features a second half that is too short and confusing to be anything more than annoying.”
Winter’s Tale has all the elements of a classic love story. There are the star-crossed lovers, Peter Lake, a thief, and Beverly Penn, a resident of a mansion Peter meant to rob. While their different lifestyles appear to be less of an obstacle than they thought, Beverly reveals to Peter that she is dying. Had the story focused on a set of lovers doomed to face the reality of mortality, Winter’s Tale wouldn’t be much different than most romantic films, but the story is not simply a tragic romance, it is a tale steeped in magic realism, which opens the door for a refreshing update to the genre. Unfortunately, the film falls flat in nearly every way, somehow making a story about love and magic, utterly limp and underwhelming.
The first half of the movie is set mostly in 1914. It is during this time that Peter breaks into the Penn mansion and meets Beverly. He learns that she has consumption, but he is still mesmerized by her beauty and happy spirit. Her only lamentation is that she has never romantically been kissed, but otherwise she seems accepting of her fate. It is clear that Peter and Beverly instantly fall in love with each other, what is not so clear is why. It seems like the only reason they shared an instant connection is that each found the other too pretty to care about anything else.
While Peter follows his heart (even if for superficial reasons alone), the film’s villain, Pearly Soames, stays perpetually angry. Soames is on the hunt for Peter Lake, so he (very angrily) goes to the “Judge” a character who can help Soames in his search. The Judge and Soames (very angrily) come to an agreement, and now Peter is one step closer to both the death of his (very pretty) love and the wrath of his (very angry) boss. Peter’s magical horse helps him escape Soames, but it can’t help him save Beverly. After deciding to give Beverly all of the (very pretty) love she’s been longing for, she dies, and Peter is doomed to live without her.
Except that he ends up waking up in 2014, runs into a child, and faces a new battle—remembering just who he is. While on this brief journey, he learns that the child, Abby, is dying of cancer. Her mother, Virginia, a food columnist, is not too concerned with the fact that an amnesiac stranger from Central Park has quickly become a part of her life (likely because he’s such a pretty amnesiac stranger). Could Peter’s travel to the future offer a key to saving a love from his past? Could the dying girl be a sign? Or could all of the above be nothing more than a convoluted plot that makes us all wish for a magical horse that could transport us out of the theater?
Since Winter’s Tale relies on magic realism, it is not an issue that many questions are left unanswered. There is no need to know why Peter’s horse can sometimes fly. It doesn’t matter how Peter manages to go one hundred years in the future without aging a day. But just because these elements need no explanation doesn’t mean that the film is allowed to not make sense. And even the parts that do make sense (like the awkward moment when Peter first sits down with Beverly’s father) aren’t executed very well.
The only believable part about Beverly and Peter’s love is that they both have a deep physical attraction to the other. While it is fine to create a character who chooses not to bemoan her fate, the approach to her feelings is slightly more subtle than Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Pearly Soames (making one wonder if he’s actually ever broken character since playing Javert in Les Miserables). Even before Beverly has to show her insouciant feelings toward her illness, we are shown an interaction she has with a hesitant eye doctor who coincidentally had a sister who died of the same illness. When she meets Peter soon after, much of the conversation is just a rehash of how life hasn’t been fair to her but she’s able to deal.
Winter’s Tale is a discombobulated mess of a plot. It features poor acting from some fine actors. It features a second half that is too short and confusing to be anything more than annoying. It is not romantic enough (or at least genuinely romantic) to be considered a good attempt at a romantic film. In the end, it is a tale of magic realism that is neither magical, or realistic, or good.
Review by Bethany Rose, Contributing Film Critic