[Review]Pfeiffer enchants in ‘Stardust’ fairy tale

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[Review]Pfeiffer enchants in ‘Stardust’ fairy tale

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Playing an evil witch, Michelle Pfeiffer, left, outshines Claire Danes, who plays Yvaine, a shooting star knocked to Earth in Stardust. Provided by Di Bonaventura Pictures

Life is good these days for Michelle Pfeiffer. Not only did she receive her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame last week, but she also scored the best role in “Stardust,” the most bewitching fairy tale to come out of Hollywood since “The Princess Bride.”
At one end of the good-evil spectrum in the film, Pfeiffer plays Lamia, a murderous, youth-obsessed witch queen. At the other end is starry-eyed young Tristan, played charmingly by relative newcomer Charlie Cox. Between the two are host of other characters: fratricidal princes, a black magic con man and less powerful (and less attractive) witches. For the duration of the film, all of the above pursue an elusive shooting star ― who, in this magical universe, turns out to be a flesh-and-blood woman.
The star, or Yvaine (Claire Danes), as the audience comes to know her, looks like a creature from outer-space with her flowing platinum blonde hair, too-pale eyebrows and albino skin. While lovably spunky in Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel version of Stardust, Danes’s Yvaine is hard for the audience to warm to with her weird pallor and surly delivery of dialogue.
Of those in pursuit, the bumbling Tristan manages to find Yvaine first, promptly becoming her awkward, yet benign captor. Tristan wants nothing more than to bring Yvaine back to his village of Wall, where Victoria (Sienna Miller), the girl of his dreams, skeptically awaits his return. To prove his unrequited love for Victoria, Tristan has sworn to bring the falling star to her in a week. Using an enchanted chain, he drags Yvaine back toward Wall ― even though she’s hardly the chunk of celestial rock he expected.
Enter Lamia in the midst of this odyssey. Desperate to claim Yvaine as her own, she transforms herself by sorcery from decrepit hag to va-va-voom villainess. For all the disservice the film’s hair and makeup team did to Danes, they redeem themselves with their work on Pfeiffer, best seen in a spectacular scene of special effects nip-tucking. Lamia’s vanity spurs her hunt for Yvaine. She can only maintain eternal youth and beauty by cutting out and eating the heart of a star. Unfortunately, along the way, every ounce of magic Lamia expends leads to another wrinkle, sag or blemish.
As Tristan and Yvaine manage to elude Lamia and their ragtag band of predators, they slowly learn to tolerate each other. Yvaine stops barking complaints, Tristan stops treating her like cattle and they forge a sort of camaraderie as they journey back toward Wall. Likewise, the audience can’t help but mimic Tristan’s warming toward Yvaine. While we know Victoria and Lamia far surpass her beauty, we can’t resist the star as she undergoes unsure acculturation into mortal life.
While Pfeiffer’s Lamia steals the show with her snide one-liners, exasperated hexing and timeless good looks (seriously, how does she manage to outshine costars half her age?), Cox’s Tristan is a close second. Lamia is the character we love to hate, but Tristan is ever the dynamic protagonist, growing progressively more winsome as the plot grows thicker. With his sheepish smiles and boy-like wide eyes, Cox impeccably plays the gawky admirer while in Wall. But as he learns to protect Yvaine on his venture outside the village, he receives a makeover in both body and soul. As Tristan becomes a man, we realize he is worthy of more than the unenthused Victoria.
In true fairy tale fashion, director Matthew Vaughn manages to weave in all the trappings of the genre: a unicorn, pirates, a little dash of Brothers Grimm-esque violence, a prince in disguise ― all while managing to include modern twists (keep your eyes and ears open for Robert DeNiro and the can-can). While a bit cheesy at times, Stardust taps into melodrama in a way that’s appropriate in the space it creates. Somehow, it’s acceptable for characters to make declarations of love in the same universe that shooting stars are actual people and sex changes require little more than the zap of a finger.
So as you stand in front of the posters at the theater, wondering which movie to choose, look deep into Pfeiffer’s eyes (there’s a reason her face is the most prominent on the poster), cast aside your grown-up reservations and live happily ever after.

Stardust
Fantasy / English
128 min.
Now playing

By Hannah Bae Contributing Writer [hannahbae@gmail.com]

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