‘Tulip Fever’: The Hot Mess of a Movie Critics Can’t Stop Talking About
Super-producer Harvey Weinstein’s long-delayed period piece about a tulip war, an affair, and a fake pregnancy has finally hit theaters. And it is… something. [Warning: Spoilers]
For all the drama surrounding Tulip Fever, you’d think it was an absolute train wreck. You’d think there would be Gigli-levels of dialogue, like Jennifer Lopez referring to cunnilingus as “it’s turkey time, gobble gobble.” But the most shocking thing about Tulip Fever is that it’s… fine. In fact, if you love messy costume dramas with insane soap opera twists then you are definitely going to love Tulip Fever.
Not for the reasons Harvey Weinstein wants you to love it, however. In a weird-as-hell op-ed for Deadline published before the film’s release, Weinstein basically pleads with people to watch Tulip Fever and to give it the benefit doubt after the near seventeen years it’s taken to reach theaters.
He also implies that the film is a “noir,” writing: “A number of years ago I fell in love with a book called Tulip Fever. The rights were controlled by a brilliant producer, Alison Owen. Written by Deborah Moggach, I felt the book had all the makings of a crime fiction Shakespeare In Love—funny, witty, and ironic, but with a great James M. Cain plot twist. It was a true noir that just happened to take place in 1634 Amsterdam with a great hook. It tells the true story of how people bet on the futures of tulip bulbs. I know that sounds crazy, but a thousand years from now we’ll all be asking why people today bet on the futures of cattle and sugar. The whole commodities market is pretty nutty when you think about it. And in 1634 Amsterdam people bet on tulip bulbs, and not just the tulip flower, but the bulb and the kind of tulip it would birth.”
I’m trying very hard not to laugh because there is… nothing noir about this damn movie. This movie is as far from noir as Spy Kids. The plot twists in this film are straight out of a ‘90s episode of Days of Our Lives. Literally. The film involves Alicia Vikander unable to give Christoph Waltz a child, so she attempts to pass off her maid’s baby as her own. Eileen Davidson was doing this in 1996 Salem when she played Kristen DiMera on Days, faking a pregnancy while stealing her lookalike Susan’s baby.
This doesn’t make the film bad. It makes it insane and off the rails, as the twists get bigger and bigger for no discernible plot reason. But it’s obvious that this film was made with the intention of being some sort of awards contender—when it’s actually a lesser version of The Other Boleyn Girl. You know, the Natalie Portman film (also directed by Justin Chadwick) where she loses her child with Eric Bana and attempts to create another by incest. It’s an insane, soapy period piece, and if you enjoyed that then Tulip Fever is the movie for you.
Just keep in mind that it’s not horrible, it’s not a train wreck, and the worst parts are probably just that it drags at times. It’s clearly a movie that’s gone through several edits since it was filmed back in summer 2014, and there are several elements that bog it down—like an ending with Zach Galifianakis that somehow decides the outcomes for all the characters in the film, even though he has absolutely nothing to do in the film prior to it. Cara Delevingne is also running around as a prostitute stealing people’s money to further various plot points. And twice someone sees a cloak and thinks a character is either having an affair or dead. These are moments where the film feels lazy or restrained, because it’s afraid of embracing the over-the-top mess it should be.
It’s saddled with a pretentious voice over, a weird ending to tie things up, and a half-assed storyline about the tulip war. (Yes, at some point the film devolves into being about finance and trading tulips, and while I’m sure it was interesting in the best-selling book, wherein you could accurately describe the three years people were fucking obsessed with tulips, not a single moment involving tulips in the movie is interesting at all.)
But luckily, watching Vikander have an affair with Dane DeHaan (acting better than he did in Valerian, probably because he’s not doing so opposite Delevingne) is enthralling in its lunacy, even though it’s far from sexy. It’s also good fun watching Waltz in the worst role he’s ever had to play—as the incredibly dumb, cuckolded husband who can’t conceive, can’t tell his wife is having an affair, can’t tell she’s faking a pregnancy, and is obsessed with having a child because his former wife suffered multiple miscarriages.
Weinstein claimed that Tulip Fever is “a smart film for adults.” It’s not. It’s a very, very, very dumb film. But I enjoyed the hell out of it.