Connect with us


‘Tulip Fever’ Is An Odd Film Wrapped In A Pretty Package

It’s no big secret that not all films are created equal. Transformers: The Last Knight‘s budget is high enough to fund several indie movies, while films like Krisha, Blue Ruin, or even Get Out take viewers on incredible emotional journeys with budgets under five million dollars. On paper, Tulip Fever has a lot going for it: a talented cast featuring multiple Oscar winners, a competent director, and a spot on The Weinstein Company’s fall slate. Perhaps it’s wrong to get excited over a movie with all that potential — but them’s the breaks. Shouldn’t a picture with so much going for it have a leg up on movies like The Trip to Spain? Yet even with these many advantages, it’s hard not to walk away from Tulip Fever thinking, “This movie should have been better.”

Tulip Fever takes place in 17th century Amsterdam. Our orphaned and destitute protaganist, Sophia (Alicia Vikander), agrees to marry a well-to-do gentleman, Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz), so that she may create a better life for her young sisters. Cornelis is rich, considerably older, and insistent on fathering a son who may carry on his legacy. As the years go by without a child, Sophia’s inability to conceive makes her expendable. As the tension mounts, Waltz brings in a local artist, Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), to paint the couple’s portrait. Younger, teeming with passion, and considerably more handsome, Jan falls for Sophia and they begin a torrid affair.

The situation becomes soap operatic when the secret lover of Maria the housekeeper, Willem (Jack O’Connell), spots Sophia and Jan in a late night tryst. Mistaking Sophia for Maria, the heartbroken Willem leaves Amsterdam before learning that he is a father-to-be. With Maria fearing the shame of a bastard child, and Sophia unable to conceive, the women devise a plan to pass the child off as Cornelis’ heir.

You don’t get very far into Tulip Fever before feeling that something is not quite right. As we’re introduced to the film’s many characters, the issue becomes clear: the performances feel out of sync. Tulip Fever has a charming fairy-tale quality to it, and you can tell that most of the actors are having fun delivering playful performances (which is fine, I’m always up for a whimsical historical tale), but then there are moments and performances that come off as gravely serious. Every now and then you may get away with a performance that’s out of whack with the rest of your film (see Peter Sellers’ comic relief in Lolita); the issue becomes a major problem when the worst offender is your movie’s lead.

Vikander feels like she’s in a different film. Her performance never quite syncs up with the rest of the cast, coming off as Hamlet in a world made up of Rosencrantz and Guildensterns. Everyone else (aside from Judi Dench) is clearly having a ball — and make no mistake about it, this is a loaded cast. Here’s a list of names that would make any film better: Judi Dench, Zach Galifianakis, Cara Delevingne, Michael Smiley, Matthew Morrison, and David Harewood (shout out to casting for sprinkling so many black extras into the film’s public spaces). That’s a lot of talent to compress into 107-minutes, and most of the actors don’t have much to do. One can’t help but think there is a longer and more ambitious director’s cut sitting in some weary editor’s office.

One character that gets more than their share of screen time is Dane DeHaan’s Jan. In Tulip Fever, DeHaan delivers his second disappointing romantic lead of the summer. Sophia and Jan don’t make for charming, believable, or even vaguely interesting lovers. Sure, we know they’re smitten because Jan’s face practically becomes the heart-eyes emoji every time he looks Sophia’s way, and the story tells our brain that they’re falling for one another, but our hearts never get the memo. How many whiffs at leading man status do we give DeHaan before Hollywood makes him take a time-out next to former Next Big Thing Taylor Kitsch?

So what does the Tulip Fever get right? The movie looks great. You’ll want to sit back and soak up the sets, the costumes, and the cast’s beautiful faces. Tulip Fever paints a stunning portrait of 17th Century Amsterdam, as director Justin Chadwick packs every inch of the frame with intricate details, and every scene bursts with vitality. Fishmongers call out from grimy stoops, minstrels busk on crowded street corners, and harlots prowl the local pub; it’s all quite impressive, until you begin noticing that the film keeps recycling the same couple of locations. Suddenly Tulip Fever‘s expansive world feels like a well-decorated stage. It’s a nitpick, but one I wouldn’t notice had the characters and plot kept me more engaged.

Tulip Fever is an odd movie to sum up. It feels like a hacked-together version of a longer and more cohesive film. The plot centres on sit-com caliber hijinks, but the movie is not funny enough to work as a comedy. It also lacks the emotional weight to work as an effective drama, and the romantic leads feel devoid of passion. However you look at the film, there are other movies that offer the same things, only better.

If you enjoy the visual splendour found in period films, and are seeking a casual afternoon watch, then there are elements in this movie for you to enjoy. If you’re in the mood for eye-candy, then you could do a lot worse; Tulip Fever offers several attractive leads, eye-catching production design, and a ridiculously overqualified cast. Perhaps not judging it by its cast’s pedigree would even result in a more enjoyable viewing experience. After all, Tulip Fever isn’t unwatchable; it’s just disappointing.

Written By

Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based pop culture writer and film critic who enjoys covering the city's biggest (and nerdiest) events. Victor has covered TIFF, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada for publications all over the internet. You can find his latest posts on Twitter and Instagram.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Sordid Cinema Podcast


Beyond The Black Rainbow – Austere, Cerebral, and Sometimes Maddening


Oz Pilot The Routine review Oz Pilot The Routine review

Oz: Revisiting the Pilot Episode of HBO’s Darkest Show


The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age for television The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age for television

The Shield TV Pilot Marked the Start of the Golden Age of Television


Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked

15 Best Star Wars Lightsaber Duels Ranked


The Wire Season 1 and 2 The Wire Season 1 and 2

20 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 1)


Apple TV+’s The Big Conn is a Compelling but Overlong True Crime Series  


Best of the Wire Best of the Wire

The Best of The Wire: A Superlative List


Jerry West and Mob Hits: HBO’s Winning Time and What Really Happened


The Wire Season 3 The Wire Season 3

20 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 2)


We Own This City: Why You Should Be Watching the Anticipated Spiritual Sequel to The Wire


50 Best HBO Shows of All Time 50 Best HBO Shows of All Time

50 Best HBO Shows of All Time (Part 2)


Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness review

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a Multiverse Muddle 


best and worst of Star Trek best and worst of Star Trek

The Best and Worst of Star Trek


The Fifth Element retrospective The Fifth Element retrospective

The Fifth Element 25 Years Later: Still One of the Greatest Space Operas Ever


The Wire Season 4 review The Wire Season 4 review

20 Years Later, The Wire’s Genre Filmmaking is Still Unmatched (Part 3)


Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) review Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997) review

Austin Powers at 25: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Landmark 1990s Comedy