Forget fever – this floral-scented fiasco is so lifeless you can barely feel a pulse. Tulip Fever, which was shot in 2014 but only hitting theaters now after years of recutting, retooling and release-date reshuffling, should have been allowed to die on the vine. Is it one of those clunkers that’s so godawful it’s great fun? You wish. The film just sits there onscreen like a wilting flower with nothing to nourish it.
On the surface, at least, it looks like a class act, a period piece about the tulip boom in 17th-century Amsterdam. Deborah Moggach’s 1999 novel was a bestseller; the Weinstein Company brought in the intellectually mischievous playwright Tom Stoppard to write the script and hired Justin Chadwick (The Other Boleyn Girl) to direct. For a much needed charge of youth and sex, recent Oscar winner Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) signed on to play Sophia. She’s the orphan who makes a marriage of convenience with wealthy merchant Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz, yoked to a fluffy collar that looks stolen from Shakespeare). Then she falls hopelessly in love Jan Van Loos (Dane DeHaan), the starving, stringbean artist hired to paint her portrait. In one scene, Jan places a phallic finger on Sophia’s pliant lip, but don’t get your hopes – or anything else – up. Not with dialogue like this:
Jan: “You’ve stolen my heart.”
Sophia: “You’ve stolen mine.”
This from genius wordsmith Stoppard? The talented DeHaan, who barely survived the summer flop that was Valerian, must now hang another albatross around his neck. And did we mention that Jan gets involved in the tulip speculation market? He does, to spectacularly dull effect. And poor Cornelius is desperate to father a child. Not gonna happen, not with his “little soldiers.” But Sophia’s maid Maria (Holliday Grainger) is pregnant – maybe a sleight of hand can be worked out. Are your eyelids dropping yet from these creaky plot turns?
It’s nothing compared to watching the clichés parade around on screen with shameless abandon. Who was Tulip Fever made for? Flower freaks? Film masochists? Completists who can’t resist seeing Zach Galifianakis and Judi Dench in the same movie. Yup, the star interviewer of Between Two Ferns and a Dame of the British Empire are also trapped in this car-wreck. At least they didn’t shell out good money to see it.