I have learned more about the tulip craze in 17th Century Amsterdam than I ever care to hear about ever again thanks to “Tulip Fever,” a lifeless, insipid mess of a movie. Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz may headline this ill-advised project and while they are proficient, their performances aren’t enough to recommend suffering through this mess.
The film is based on the novel by Deborah Moggach and as is usually the case with intricate books turned into movies, there are just far too many storylines competing for attention within the entrapments of a 90 minute run time. It’s such a convoluted jumble of confusion that at times the plot doesn’t make any sense whatsoever, and it doesn’t help that almost all of the characters feel paper thin.
Vikander is adept as Sophia, an orphaned girl who is forced into an arranged marriage to a wealthy merchant (Waltz). Unhappy in her emotional prison and unable to conceive an heir for her husband, she finds a confidant in her housemaid Maria (Holliday Grainger). When the lady of the house starts to have a passionate affair with a portrait painter (Dane DeHaan), all hell breaks loose.
There are way too many subplots that throw far too much information at the viewer, from an inept attempt to explain the underground tulip bulb market that ran rampant in the early 1600s, an unconvincing romance storyline with the local fishmonger (Jack O’Connell), scenes of a humorless nun (Judi Dench) tending to her flower garden, a drunk screw-up (Zach Galifianakis) ruining an epic plan after he intervenes to stop someone from beating a donkey, and a slightly pervy underground wannabe gynecologist.
Perhaps if this film had been crafted as a screwball comedy it would’ve been more effective.
The truly unsexy sex scenes notwithstanding, the filmmaking is at least skilled, and plot-wise there’s just enough to keep audiences barely hanging on to discover where the story ultimately goes. “Tulip Fever” is thankfully interspersed with some gorgeous shots of the most lovely flowers and the lavish costume design is an additional feast for the eyes. The movie isn’t bad to look at it, it’s just dull, hollow and ultimately confusing.