The mysterious and unseen Lemony Snicket (a constantly silhouetted Jude Law) narrates a tale strung together with a series of unfortunate events but it is wonderful to behold and those planning to watch it are advised to sit through it all the way to the very end, despite the narrator's insistence on doing otherwise during multiple occasions. Using exuberant sets and backdrops, and an absolutely manic Jim Carrey completely let loose in multiple phases and forms of scheming, self-serving wickedness, this is a surprisingly quirky and surrealistic children's tale that has an inspiring edginess about itself.
Based on an amalgam of tales from the first three Lemony Snicket books, it has Carrey perform the role here of the central character, Count Olaf, a reclusive haggard who makes no contention about the fact that his prime motivation for taking in the three Baudelaire children after their parents perish in a dubious fire set at their home, is to somehow get his hands on the fortune that remains in their absence. Of course the only way to achieve this is to have the three children killed via an accidental death. But with Violet, Klaus and impish Sunny being the well read, thoughtful and sublimely informed lads that they are, Olaf finds the task rather difficult to execute. As a children's tale, the movie has some inspired messages about the importance of family and togetherness, but even when it is just being amusing and playful, like having the youngest Sunny speak in baby babble that is translated for the audiences' pleasure on screen, it is delightful visually, aesthetically and otherwise.
The films real strength however lies in the bold move of placing its faith on not just its star Jim Carrey but equally well on the three young performers. Carrey's mechanical overacting works like a charm here. He is delusional, pathological and menacingly enticing in the way that he is sure his gimmicky disguises, springing from his desire to be an actor, will fool everyone around him. All of the adults too have a certain lunacy about them. These include the snake-loving Uncle Monty (Billy Connolly) and Meryl Streep's pitifully terrified Aunt Josephine, both of whom turn into surrogate relatives opening up their abodes as sanctuaries for the Baudelaire trio after the children manage to outwit the Count's efforts to have them killed, though only momentarily.
The movie is rated highly by me not because it is breakthrough in any of the production of performance departments but because its frame of reference are two relatively recent children's fantasy books turned terribly wasteful movies with disastrous results, viz Carrey's very own 'The Grinch' and 'Cat in the hat'. 'Lemony Snicket' manages to right all the wrongs of those two without being irksome, cute or a distasteful mixture of both. Watch it to remind yourself that there is goodness to be found in fantastic children's tales that aren't titled 'Harry Potter' or written by 'Dr Seuss'. - Faizan Rashid