40 films that manage to get magical realism right where ‘Winter’s Tale’ failed

Looks like LB isn’t the only one disappointed by WINTER’S TALE. One of our all-time favorite critics has this to say:

This pic has nothing to do with WINTER'S TALE but everything to do with magical realism! Honest!
This pic has nothing to do with WINTER’S TALE but everything to do with magical realism! Honest!

by Drew McWeeny

Yesterday on Twitter, someone asked me the simple version of a larger point made in some angry e-mails aboutmy “Winter’s Tale” review. Several people accused me outright of simply hating magic and romance in movies, which is silly, and it was @SamShotFirst (Sam Van Haren) who asked me: “Just read your “Winter’s Tale” review. What are some films you think handle magical realism well?”

I suggested that this is the sort of a question worth answering in an article, but offered one immediate example that came to mind. “Field Of Dreams.”

Now, sure, part of the reason I’ll accept “Field Of Dreams” is because they get the emotional side of things right. That’s missing the bigger picture, though. The main reason it works is because first it feeds you just enough information to understand who everyone is. Then you introduce the first element of magic. We watch everyone react. We watch them puzzle it through. Then there’s another element of magic. And they have to adjust again. And in each case, the moment where they have to adjust is playing honestly, because you have to acknowledge that something outside of the ordinary is happening. You can’t shrug it off.

But you also can’t pound on it in such an obnoxious and obvious way that it’s just VFX wanking, pointless flashes of lights and explosions. “Field Of Dreams” only has a few special effects, and one of the best ones is used to sell just how important the entire moment was. When Doc Graham has to decide if he’s going to stay young, if he’s going to remain the ball player he was or if he’s going to save that little girl… it’s not really a choice. He steps out, changing back, and it’s a beautiful simple moment of visual magic. Everything in the film is undersold, and that helps.

He wrote back “Of course. I guess I was having a hard dime figuring exactly what makes something magical realism. Something like Amelie,’ too?”

Absolutely. I think on film, magical realism is something different than it is in literature. In film, you have a fundamental realism that is had to get around. It is much harder to do full-blown fantasy in some ways because of how much you have to do to create something that feels lived in. Jeunet and Caro couldn’t help but deal in magical not-so-realism in their first few films. They had such a strong sense of world-building, controlling everything you see, every part of every set and costume. That was a skill set that seemed to be a big part of some of the guys who started in the ’80s, both within the studio system and in the broader international sense. I think they were all responding to one another, and this sort of insular world-building stuff became the primary skill needed to get one into the 21st century, where each new franchise has to create an extended world for books and sequels and games and MMORPGs and theme part tie ins and prequels and costumes and cosplay and Comic-Con ready shtick and if it’s not, then WHY ARE YOU EVEN BOTHERING?

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