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Wayback Wednesday: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

Misfortune has never been so charming!

I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been going through a bit of a rough patch lately. Things have been piling up and in my own way, life has felt like a series of unfortunate events. Small-scale unfortunate events mind you, but unfortunate nonetheless. To help pull myself out of this funk, I thought I’d channel my misery into this week’s Wayback and review a movie that while quite grim, has a surprisingly uplifting message about resilience. Of course, that’s only partly why I chose to review Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004). You guys, I was obsessed with these books as a kid and absolutely adored this movie growing up. Turns out, I still adore it!

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Credit: / Paramount Pictures / DreamWorks Pictures / United International Pictures

Based on the acclaimed book series of the same name, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny. When their parents die and their home is destroyed in a mysterious fire, the siblings are sent to live with Count Olaf, a villainous actor who wants to steal their family fortune. Shuffled from home to home, the Baudelaire orphans must use all their talents to thwart Olaf’s evil schemes.

When you and your book-loving friends eventually have the conversation of what the best book-to-screen adaptation out there is, most people are going to say the Harry Potter series (2001 – 2011). Rightfully so, because those movies are fantastic. However, I firmly believe that the Netflix series, A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017 – 2019) is the most faithful, fully-realized, perfectly-executed adaptation I’ve ever seen. Seriously, that’s the hill I choose to die on. Of course, before the series, there was the movie that adapted the first three books, which is just as faithful and perfectly-executed. This movie is severely underrated. It flawlessly captures the tone of those first three books and what’s even better is that the movie laid the groundwork for future installments. Fan of the book series or not, this movie hooks viewers in and crafts a mystery so compelling that you can’t resist finding out where it will take the Baudelaire children next. Man, I’m bummed they didn’t make any more of these movies.

I’m bummed there weren’t any follow-up movies both as a fan of the books, and as a fan of brilliantly-made movies. From production design, to writing, to costumes, to acting, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is marvellous to behold. I love watching movies that feel like you’re stepping into another world and this movie accomplishes that effect wonderfully. Director Brad Silberling also directed Casper (1995) – check out my review, here – so he understands the importance of spooky, gothic, hauntingly beautiful production design. This whole movie gives me total Tim Burton vibes and I LOVE IT. I’ve always been a fan of movies that showcase how enticing and delightfully over the top the spooky aesthetic can be, and this movie is a silly and sinister mashup that I just can’t get enough of.

Stuffed to the brim with phenomenal practical sets, every frame of this movie is a buffet for the eyes. Every time I rewatch this movie, I’m in awe of how much work and attention to detail is put into the production. The sets, props, and costumes (designed by four-time Oscar-winner, Colleen Atwood) are crafted with such care and originality and I appreciate how they work together to establish this unique, gothic, ambiguous setting. Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events feels like a completely different world, one that’s 100 per cent fleshed out. Which is appropriate considering how signature Snicket’s books are in the first place.

If you had told me Lemony Snicket himself worked on the screenplay for this movie, I’d have no trouble believing you. Screenwriter Robert Gordon adapts the wit, the mystique, the terror, and the heart that made Snicket’s books so unforgettable, and seamlessly applies them to the big screen adaptation. Also, props to Gordon for condensing three books into one tight, coherent, well-paced movie. It bears repeating: THIS IS A PHENOMENAL ADAPTATION THAT IS SEVERELY UNDERRATED. As much as the movie captures the dour, inherent misfortune that runs rampant in the books, it always brings a smile to my face that it manages to capture the flicker of hope that exists in Snicket’s story as well. Despite all the misery and misfortune, there’s something remarkably admirable and uplifting about the story of the Baudelaire orphans. No matter how bad things get, or what’s thrown their way, they always find a way to beat the odds and keep pushing forward to to find their own happy ending. It’s inspiring. Like Violet says, “there’s always something.”

Speaking of Violet, the kids in this movie are pretty great. Naturally, I’m talking mostly about Emily Browning and Liam Aiken as Violet and Klaus respectively. The baby who plays Sunny is cute comedic relief and that’s pretty much all I can say about her. Browning and Aiken play the Baudelaire children with the right mix of tenacity, despair, and exasperation. Could you imagine having to spell out to the clueless adults that the sneaky stranger is actually Count Olaf in disguise? Time and time again? Exhausting! They manage to take it in stride though and use their exceptional wits and talents to repeatedly come out on top. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are three protagonists that are impossible not to root for. Browning and Aiken are also called on to deliver some emotional moments and I’ll admit, I got a little verklempt.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have Jim Carrey as Count Olaf. Oh my God, this is hands down one of my favourite Carrey roles. Deliciously wicked, superbly campy, and even mildly frightening, Carrey is hilarious as expected. I mean, a vain, dense, villainous role where he gets to play three distinct characters? Count Olaf was made for Carrey! As Olaf / Stephano / Captain Sham, Carrey is clearly having the most fun and injects each character with the same amount of zany energy that is jaw-dropping to watch. He’s like a Disney villain where you’re kind of scared of him, but also having a blast watching everything he does and hoping he pops up on screen again. Carrey, along with Billy Connolly and Meryl Streep, as Uncle Monty and Aunt Josephine respectively, deliver cartoonish performances and I mean that as the highest compliment. Can you believe they got Streep to be in this movie? Legendary. There are really some fabulous actors in this movie. Hello, Catherine O’Hara and Jennifer Coolidge!

This movie is so good. I’m always impressed by movies intended for kids that are actually hugely entertaining for adults as well, and that’s what Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is. I love the world and story that this movie creates and AGAIN, I’m so bummed we never got to see it explored in future movies. Y’know what? I just talked myself into rereading all 13 books and watching the Netflix series again. What can I say? Misery loves company.

Are you a fan of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events? The movie, series or books?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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