Hot Take: Not sexy enough to be a torrid erotic thriller. (Actually, it goes out of it’s way to cancel out sexy moments.) Not terrible enough to be a trashy B-movie. (Actually, it achieves mediocrity for the most part.)
The long, painful odyssey that was the release of Tulip Fever is finally over. The acclaimed 2000 novel by Deborah Moggach was a highly sought after commodity at one point. In 2004, the project was attached to Steven Spielberg as the producer, John Madden as director and Keira Knightley, Jude Law and Jim Broadbent as the lead actors. A change in the tax rules in the UK put a halt to the proposed $48 million production thus putting the project in limbo. In 2013, the film was resurrected. This time it was attached to Harvey Weinstein and Alison Owens as producers with Alicia Vikander and Matthias Schoenaerts in the prominent roles. In 2014, the project was officially acquired by The Weinstein Company away from Paramount Pictures, Schoenaerts was no longer included in the project now expected to be directed by Justin Chadwick and a strong cast including Christoph Waltz, Judi Dench, Dane DeHaan, Zach Galifianakis, Jack O’Connell, Cara Delevingne, Holliday Grainger and others joined the cast. Production began on the Tom Stoppard script and the film was shot in two months… in 2014.
Footage of the film first saw the light of day at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2015 and Tulip Fever was ready to hit theaters in November 2015. Soon after the announcement, the film was pushed into the middle of the 2016 calendar with a July 2016 release date. By the time the film was delayed again, trailers of the film were readily available and despite a powerhouse cast (that became more powerful as time went on as careers took off), there was already buzz that this film was a disaster. July 2016 never happened and neither did February 24, 2017 or August 25, 2017, for that matter. It wasn’t until September 1, 2017 that Tulip Fever finally settled in for an actual release date. Headlining what was expected to be the worst Labor Day weekend at the box office in over 25 years, Tulip Fever was not expected to do much. (Early returns say it barely lived up to those dismal expectations.)
You may ask yourself why would I bother detailing so much of the background of Tulip Fever? For one, it actually is as interesting if not more interesting than the finished product. Secondly, in honor of the film’s overarching theme of overexplaining everything with constant exposition, I thought it only fitting to do the same about the film’s history. If there was one thing interesting about Tulip Fever, though, it was it’s ability to send completely conflicting messages when it came to eroticism and sex. One minute you’re looking at a wildly attractive Alicia Vikander as Sophia, the young orphan girl bought by rich importer Cornelius Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), only to have it followed by having to witness Waltz’s Cornelius taking a leak. As the two climb into bed and you expect something erotic, instead you get Waltz uttering nonsense about his “soldier” standing at attention. Holliday Grainger plays the couple’s servant Maria and is having a tawdry affair with the local fishmonger Willem (Jack O’Connell). So, when these two finally get it on, it’s going to be hot, right? Well, only if Maria’s disgust over Willem’s fishy hands and her demand that he rub some fragrant plant on his hands while the two have sex is a turn on. Even when Vikander and DeHaan give in to temptation (it didn’t take much prodding, for the record), it has to be accompanied with ridiculous lines from both: “You’ve stolen my heart.” “You’ve stolen mine.” Ugh!
All that being said, Tulip Fever isn’t terrible. Worst yet, it’s not even bad enough to fall into the “So bad it’s good” category. The film is too plot driven to be the cinema’s dirty wench of the summer. The film feels much longer than 107 minutes which is thanks to the senseless exposition that stretches every scene. It’s also a bit dull which is not a word you want attached to an erotic thriller. As a rule of thumb, movies that sit on the shelf for as long as Tulip Fever did usually turn out poorly. The only reason Tulip Fever might be an exception here is because it does achieve mediocrity. However, with the amount of talent involved, this film should have been better.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Zach Galifianakis
At the time the film was made, Galifianakis was a bigger star. As it sat on the shelf, his star has lost a little bit of its shine but he brings some comic relief to the film as Gerrit.
- Judi Dench
Dench’s role in Tulip Fever is an odd one. She plays The Abbess of St. Ursula who oversaw both the orphanage from which Vikander’s Sophia came from and a major source of tulips. She’s a nun but unlike any nun you’ve seen before. She’s the 17th century version of Sister Mary Clarence. That’s a Sister Act reference, if you were wondering.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Cara Delevingne
There was a place for Delevingne to do more but she does very little. You’d expect Delevingne to contribute to the sexiness of the film yet she’s relegated to the very unsexy role of tulip market speculator although she’s also a woman of the night whom we only see off duty.
- Birth Control
It’s apparent the film wants to establish Waltz’s character as unsavory when it comes to the bedroom. They do this by showing him urinating often and talking about his sex organs as if they were part of an army. However, the 32 year difference between the two characters was probably enough.