There’s noth­ing fair about these fairy tales

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - ALI­SON GILL­MOR

SNOW White is hav­ing a Hol­ly­wood mo­ment. Along with a re­cent TV ap­pear­ance in Once Upon a Time, the tale is pop­ping up in two movies: Mir­ror Mir­ror, a campy com­edy that opened this month, and the vi­o­lent, su­per­in­tense Snow White and the Hunts­man, which is due out this sum­mer.

Un­like the 1937 Dis­ney clas­sic, which fo­cused mostly on the in­genue charms of dear lit­tle Snow White, the new film adap­ta­tions seem more in­ter­ested in the des­per­ate psy­chodrama of the Evil Queen, played in Mir­ror Mir­ror by Ju­lia Roberts and by Char­l­ize Theron in Snow White and the Hunts­man.

Now, it’s a bad thing when fe­male stars over 35 drop off the scene, the stu­dios be­liev­ing that they’re box-of­fice poi­son ap­ples. It might be even worse, how- ever, when two fe­male Os­car win­ners of a cer­tain age ac­tu­ally get to head­line two movies — and they’re each play­ing a mon­ster who schemes and mur­ders to hold onto her youth and beauty.

Both movies fea­ture a lot of star­ing into mir­rors, with Roberts and Theron giv­ing their re­flec­tions that ap­prais­ing once-over. Roberts’s strug­gle with the glass is played for com­edy: “They’re not wrin­kles,” she quips, check­ing out the cor­ners of her eyes, “just crin­kles.”

Cue the me­dieval-style spa day, in which scor­pion bites and bee stings stand in for Bo­tox. Roberts also gets laced into her corset by some fiendish tight­en­ing con­trap­tion, laugh­ing that Pretty Woman laugh at the idea she might have put on weight.

Theron’s re­la­tion­ship with her look­ing-glass is a lot more over­wrought and scary, her mir­ror be­ing made of molten gold that oozes onto the floor and then re­con­sti­tutes it­self into a sin­is­ter hooded fig­ure ready for a stare­down. Get­ting back to the story’s Grimm — and ex­tremely grim — roots, this queen’s beauty treat­ments in­volve can­ni­bal­ism. She sucks the youth out of hap­less maid­ens as part of her main­te­nance reg­i­men, but what she re­ally wants to do is de­vour Snow White’s beat­ing heart. “Beauty is my power,” says Theron’s icy queen. And she doesn’t plan to let it go.

Maybe it’s not sur­pris­ing that ac­tresses can look con­vinc­ing as char­ac­ters who fret about fading beauty and plot to kill their younger ri­vals. This is kind of the way things go in Hol­ly­wood. Ex­cept for those glo­ri­ous to­kens, Meryl Streep and He­len Mir­ren, midlife women don’t do well in the in­dus­try. Many tran­si­tion to tele­vi­sion. Some are de­moted to straight-to-dvd movies or re­gional din­ner theatre or re­al­ity TV con­tests. Some just dis­ap­pear. (And some won’t go away. Sean Young, one­time star of ’80s movies like Blade Run­ner and No Way Out, keeps crash­ing Os­car par­ties, show­ing up like the for­got­ten bad fairy at the feast.)

Those who per­sist have to deal with a cul­ture that only rec­og­nizes the kind of un­lined, un­wor­ried beauty that is al­lied with youth. Roberts and Theron are both gor­geous women, but when they ap­pear in ad­ver­tise­ments or on mag­a­zine cov­ers, they’re usu­ally Pho­to­shopped into smooth, gleam­ing strange­ness. They’re sup­posed to look young, but they end up look­ing like an­droids.

In these terms, Snow White is a per­fect lit­tle story to il­lus­trate cur­rent boomer anx­i­ety about ag­ing, es­pe­cially fe­male ag­ing. In fairy tales, you can ei­ther be a maiden or a crone. The Evil Queen keeps the crone at bay with dark magic. Boomers use the even darker magic of the bil­lion-dol­lar beauty in­dus­try, as the ag­ing process is re­duced to a willed, la­bo­ri­ous and ex­pen­sive repli­ca­tion of youth.

Age is just a num­ber, we keep telling our­selves, and 50 is the new 29.

Now that’s a fairy tale.

Ju­lia Roberts as the Evil Queen in Mir­ror Mir­ror.

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