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

In the season 6 Simpsons episode Lisa’s Wedding, we get a glimpse of the far-flung future of 2010. We see Lisa Simpson and her boyfriend Hugh exiting a film festival dedicated to Jim Carrey. “He can make you laugh with a mere flailing of his limbs” Lisa gushes wistfully.

From the perspective of 1995 the joke is simple enough; wouldn’t it be funny if low-brow, gurning over-actor Jim Carrey was one day revered as a Carey Grant-esque screen icon? Well, it’s a neat dozen years after the “future” the Simpsons predicted and, while I wouldn’t say he’s quite there yet, Jim Carrey is definitely a much more highly respected performer than when the Simpsons made their jab. Like the Simpsons, Jim Carrey is still around. Unlike the Simpsons, he’s still approaching everything with maximum enthusiasm and can still manage to be funny so I say, match point Carrey.

That’s a subjective view, obviously. Carrey is very much a marmite performer, you either love him or you hate him. Personally, I’m just the right age where Ace Ventura, Batman Forever and The Mask were childhood staples so yeah I dig the dude a lot. For me, he’s in that rarified “Jack Nicholson” category; there’s is no one else who can do what he does and he clearly has a ball doing it. But sure, he’s not everyone’s bag. Fans of Daniel Handler’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (which, paws in the air, I have yet to read) seem deeply divided on Carrey’s portrayal of the villain Count Olaf, who is (apparently) a far less comedic and more monstrous individual in the books. Sucks to be them. I think this is his best work in anything not called The Truman Show. Look, casting Jim Carrey and expecting him not to be Jim Carrey is like hiring a bouncy castle and then just putting it your front garden for children to look at.

That is, something only a monster would do.

The movie begins with a happy little animated sequence about a happy little elf before abruptly grinding to a halt and Lemony Snicket (Jude Law, god damn) solemnly informing us that this ain’t that kinda movie, fam.

What it is, by the by, is bloody smurges:

The movie’s cinematography was done by Emmanuel Lubezki. He’s the only person in history to win three consecutive Academy awards for cinematography which is proof that even the Academy gets things right sometimes. He worked with Tim Burton on Sleepy Hollow, the movie that this film most reminds me of and it’s an aesthetic that I don’t think I will ever get tired of. It’s just..so…depressingly beautiful. Then there’s the maudlin lullaby of the movie’s soundtrack by Thomas Newman which combines with the visuals to ensure that this film has atmosphere to burn.

Anyway our story begins with the Baudelaire children Violet (Emily Browning), Klaus (Liam Aiken) and Sunny (Klara and Shelby Hoffman) being visited on a bleak and forbidding beach by their family banker Mr Poe, played by Timothy Spall (God damn). He tells the children that their parents have burned to death in a most unfortunate event, which is awful, but will hopefully be the last one they have to endure.

Ah. Never mind.

Mr Poe turns out to be a clueless idiot (despite working in the banking industry) and interprets the Baudelaires’ will that their children be placed in the care of their closest relative to be geographically closest and so leaves them with their distant cousin Count Olaf. Pretty shoddy, but then again, it could easily have been avoided if the Baudelaire’s had, oh I dunno, JUST SPECIFIED THEIR CHILDREN’S GUARDIAN BY NAME IN THE WILL but whatever. On their way to Count Olaf’s house, they meet the lovely Justice Strauss (Catherine O’Hara, God damn) who the children briefly believe is Olaf’s wife before she has to tell them that no, she’s just his neighbour and they’re on their own.

Olaf is an evil and shiftless aristocrat, but I repeat myself, and a morally degenerate actor (ditto) who wastes no time putting the Baudelaire orphans to work as servants in his crumbling, decaying Addams Family mansion. Things come to a head when the children are forced to cook a meal for the count’s acting troop with half an hours notice while the actors rehearse. This, incidentally, gives Jim Carrey an opportunity to give us the finest portrayal of a dinosaur ever seen on the big screen.

Eat shit, Spielberg.

When he realises that the children have not cooked a roast beef dinner like he wanted, Olaf hits Klaus. Furious, Violet tells him that she’s going to call Mr Poe so, he drives the children to a railway line and traps them in the car to be crushed by an oncoming train.

However, the Baudelaire’s are no ordinary orphans and through Violet’s inventive prowess, Klaus’s encyclopaedic knowledge of facts and Sunny’s razor-sharp little rat-like toddler teeth (most accurate part of the movie), they’re able to escape. Mr Poe, arrives and completely misses the point that Olaf was trying to kill the children, but thinks that Olaf was letting them drive the car and so takes them away to live with another guardian.

This turns out to be their Uncle Montgomery (Billy Connolly, God damn) a kindly herpetologist which is actually someone who studies snakes and not what I thought it was. (Don’t show a herpetologist your ass. I learned that the hard way.)

Uncle Monty tells the children that they’re all going to South America, where they’ll be safe from Count Olaf. The children quickly grow to love their kind, compassionate new guardian which means of course that Monty’s going to bite the big one.

Olaf shows up disguised as “Stefano”, another herpetologist ostensibly here to help Monty move his snakes. The next morning, Monty is found dead, apparently killed by the Incredibly Deadly Viper, a species of snake Monty discovered. Mr Poe and the police almost place the orphans in Stefano’s care but Sunny proves that the snake is actually harmless, and that “Incredibly Deadly Viper” is a deliberate misnomer like “Killer Whale” or “African Elephant”.

They’re actually native to Croydon.

Mr Poe, who by this point should have failed upwards enough to be put in charge of the entire banking sector, takes the children to the next relative on their list, Aunt Josephine played by Meryl Streep (HOLY SHIT!!).

God DAMN this cast is stacked. Anyway, you can probably guess the formula by now. Funny eccentric relative is funny and eccentric, Olaf turns up in a new disguise which no one can see through, kills said relative and the children barely escape through their own quick-wittedness and with absolutely no help from the adults and institutions that should be protecting them. So it goes, Olaf feeds Aunt Josephine to the “lachrymose leeches” after she corrects his grammar and pretends to be rescuing the children just as Mr Poe and the police arrive which (of course) results in them being put back in his tender care.

Olaf now has a new plan to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune which is to stage a play where he will marry Violet onstage, with the justice being played by Justice Strauss who (as an actual justice) will actually legally marry them.

That is EXACTLY how Keanu Reeves got his hands on the legendary Ryder fortune.

To avoid Justice Strauss talking to the children and learning the truth about the plot, Olaf keeps her nauseous by telling her that there is a theatre critic in the audience, who is played by OH COME ON!

Now you’re just showing off, movie.

Anyway, Klaus Baudelaire is able to save his sister from her underage marriage by discovering a tower room with lenses that he realises Olaf was able to use to set the Baudelaire’s mansion on fire. Re-focusing the lenses, he is able to burn the marriage certificate, ruining Olaf’s plan. The audience, FINALLY realising that Olaf is a bastard, seize him and he’s put on trial. Where he walks away scott-free because he stacked the jury because of course he did.

While visiting the charred remains of their home, the Baudelaires find a letter from their parents telling them that they love them and entrusting them with a spyglass that has “sequel hook” written all over it.

And the movie ends with the three orphans being driven away to meet their next guardian who I’m sure will be lovely.

Cigar’s always a good sign, right?


LMASOUE is exactly the kind of film that really challenges me to review it.

Is it good, Mouse?

Yes, reader. It is, in fact, very good indeed.

Why is it so good, Mouse?

Well because the cinematography, score and direction are all excellent, the script is witty and literate and the cast is absolutely fucking STACKED with some of the best actors of the period giving game performances.

Huh, well when you put it that way it’s seems pretty obvious.

I know, right? Explaining why this movie is good is kinda like having to explain why water is wet.

It just is.

Five stars.

One whole star for this hat.

PS: I haven’t watched the Netflix series fully myself, Mini-Mouse has been binging it and I’ve seen snippets (snickets?). Seems fine. Fatally lacking in Jim Carrey impersonating a dinosaur, but fine.

NEXT UPDATE: I’m going on holiday so next update’s going to be a littler later than usual, 14th July.

NEXT TIME: It’s live action Disney remakes month. What’s that? You didn’t ask for this?

No one ever does.


  1. I never read the book series this movie draws from. Something about a trio of orphans constantly escaping death and losing everyone that could provide some good in their lives is just…..depressingly repetitive.

    Still I had forgotten the creative atmosphere and how immersive it is. An overlooked art in the world of filmmaking. I also forgot just how many great character actors are in this, like the director just stuffed them in and said, “Have fun.” If it did end up with a sequel I can only imagine who would show up.

  2. I remember reading a good chunk of the books, but never finished the series. I lost interest after book 9 or 10. I remember seeing this movie in theaters and liking it, but forgot about it quickly. Probably because I didn’t hear much about this film after it’s release. I do remember being confused at my parents’ reaction to seeing Meryl Streep in this film, if only because I didn’t know who she was at the time. (I was 11!) I only knew of her at the time from this film, and because Weird Al mentioned her in a song of his I liked. (“Your Horoscope For Today”.) Somewhere, I still have the box of the PC Game that was made for this movie. I think I played it once or twice and, you guessed it: forgot about it.

      1. I guess it’s ’cause I never rented it as a kid or owned it on DVD. I might have caught glimpses of it on TV later on, but it was always when I was at parties, so my attention was always elsewhere.

  3. Never read the books, although I did enjoy this movie. If I ever sign back up for Netflix (maybe after the new season of Stranger Things is complete), I may check out the series.

  4. I have never read the books, but I did enjoy watching the film. Not a classic, but definitely an interesting piece of work (and the casting director must have been owed more favours than Guinevere to have assembled that cast list!).

    1. Director Brad Siberling doesn’t have the most impressive resume outside this movie, but his previous film (A drama about bereavement called Moonlight Mile) had Dustin Hoffman as one of the leads, which could explain his cameo here…

  5. Sad that Carrey is retiring.

    I thought you would have started Disney live action reviews with Alice in Wonderland since it’s the first. But regarding Cinderella, I need to note I refused to watch it (well to be honest I have not watched any of the remakes) since the dress is blue! and not silver white like original, this film is just part of the merchandise scam of trying to trick kids! Her hair isn’t light blonde in the animated film too but more strawberry blond or sand color, but the merchandise always has her as bleach blonde these days.

  6. The film and the series are interesting given the deviations they take in the work. They’re both more comedic and lighthearted than the books, but the film feels more detached from them while the series feels like Handler’s attempts at making the story feel more cohesive. Several plot events that become more prominent in the books only came up later, wheras in the series they’re present from the start. I like them both, but I’d prefer the series if I had to choose.

    That said, I’d recommend hunting down some of the audio books if you can for the series. While a few are actually narrated by Daniel Handler, the majority are done by Tim Curry. I feel he really captures the dreary and sardonic nature of the work well, and he’s especially great as Olaf.

  7. This was one of my favorite book series as a kid. For those who started it but never finished I would highly recommend finishing it. It’s just fantastic in spite of the repetitive nature of the plot in the first half of the series. I liked this film a lot when it came out. It’s a pretty good adaptation. Thanks for the review.
    7 second clip of Dinosaur Jim Carrey > Jurassic World Dominion

  8. I loved this series as a kid, so naturally I was in the theater ASAP to see this movie. I loved it back then. I haven’t watched it in a long time so idk if that love remains. The Netflix series was decent.

  9. As somebody who did finish the series multiple times I know exactly who Carrey and Harris’s Olafs are so divisive. Almost every Olaf line and action can result in this to the reader

    Read 1- Laughter

    Read 2- Sadness and anger

    Read 3- Laughter again.

    There is so much comedy put in all the tragedies that happen to him and from him mixed with a series that has so much ambiguity that the reader reactions will always be very different.

  10. I have fond memories of this movie. For the record, haven’t read any of the books. It kind of sounds like a mess if you describe the plot, but the style and the performances are a lot of fun to watch. Also enjoyed the Netflix series. I may not like it as much as this one, but it took an unexpected shot at Antonin Scalia.

    Really enjoyed your review. I hope you never think that your readers are tired of you taking shots at the banking industry.

  11. I have watched the Netflix version and it is pretty good. For me, the thing that keeps creeping in and spoiling it is this bizarre, Mandela- like memory of having read these books as a child. Which I clearly did not, despite 1987 only being 20 years ago. Then again, the 80s were a particularly vibrant time for plucky orphans so I’m probably thinking of another series.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s