By Christian DiMartino
“Peculiar” is the right word to describe Tim Burton’s latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, but not for reasons you might expect. What’s peculiar is the fact that the film has flaws coming out the yin-yang, but yet it’s still somewhat enjoyable.
Burton, particularly in the later years, has become a filmmaker that you either take or leave. As a fan, it’s difficult to deny that sometimes, even if they are enjoyable (I like Dark Shadows, sue me), he appears to be on autopilot. Yet, every so often, he can still make something special, such as his last film, the severely overlooked Big Eyes. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children appears to be a mix of both. Sometimes, he puts his heart into it. Other times, it feels too easy.
The film is pretty much being sold as a kids movie, but that’s not quite the case. When a group of monsters munch on a plate of eyeballs, that should become abundantly clear. Asa Butterfield, a fine actor, is kind of a stiff as Jake, a Floridian who grew up listening to his grandfather’s (Terrence Stamp) tales of the orphanage he grew up in. This was no normal orphanage though; he basically lived with a bunch of mutants. Once Jake grew up though, he realized that the stories were fiction… or were they?
Jake receives a gift from his grandfather: the location of said orphanage. Feeling depressed by the loss of his grandfather, his therapist (Allison Janney) urges Jake to travel to Wales, and soon enough, Jake and his father (Chris O’Dowd, sporting a ridiculous American accent) set off. O’Dowd’s character is pretty much a deadbeat, and Kim Dickens (Gone Girl) is a total waste as his mother.
While his father is off drinking, Jake eventually does find the orphanage, ran by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green), but here’s the thing: they’re actually in the 1940s. Yeah, so, basically, the orphanage was destroyed by a nuke in WWII, but Miss Peregrine has the ability to rewind the clock 24 hours, this way they can live on, even though they are forced to relive the same day over and over again. Like Groundhog Day. The central conflict here: the children have to fight off these monsters that feast on your eyeballs. The monsters are invisible, and led by Barron (Samuel L. Jackson, overacting with glee), and only Jake can see them.
Whew. That felt like a lot to cover. That’s really because the film is kind of jumbled. Burton does juggle a lot of stuff in just two hours, and the result can feel a little wobbly. That’s one problem here. Another is Butterfield, a likable young lad. Yet his performance just doesn’t really come off the ground. Also, the love story is weird. There’s a few slow stretches. The “peculiar children” are fairly interesting, but as characters, they’re never really developed. Perhaps they don’t need to be, but they serve better as ideas than characters.
Oh, but what ideas this film has. There’s a lot of invention at play, and that’s probably because of the source material. I, however, haven’t read the source material, so it all felt fresh to me. The ideas might not all work together, but they’re still neato. I also loved the climactic battle.
Most of all though, as is the case with pretty much every Burton film, it’s so beautiful. Beautiful to look at, and beautiful to behold. Beautiful cinematography from Bruno Delbonnel, beautiful production design, marvelous visual effects. In all honesty, if anyone is having a great year, it’s costume designer Colleen Atwood. While the films she’s done this year (The Huntsman: Winter’s War, Alice Through the Looking Glass) haven’t lived up to her costumes, her costumes are still absolutely insane, and the same could be said for her work here, and probably her work in the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She has three Oscars for a reason, and I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if she took up four of the five nominee slots at the Oscars this year. She’s the real MVP.
But enough about the production. This is a lesser Burton effort. Not one of his worst, not one of his bests. But if looks could kill… let’s just say, this film would be like the nuke that destroyed the orphanage. Let’s call that praise.