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Alicia Vikander in the movie "Tulip Fever."

How I wanted to enjoy this period piece. It looked so interesting, what with its historic setting during the tulip craze of 1636-37 in Amsterdam and its stellar cast, three of whom have earned Academy Awards.

During the actual tulip craze, tulip bulbs sold for ridiculous prices. But that remains mostly in the background.

The main story, which has a narrator just in case you aren’t paying attention or have to use the washroom, I guess, involves Sophia Sandvoort (Alicia Vikander, who earned an Oscar with “The Danish Girl.”) Sophia is chosen by wealthy businessman Cornelis Sandvoort (Christoph Waltz, who earned Oscars for “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django”) become his bride. The widower wants her to give him a male heir.

Time goes by, and Sophia does not conceive a child. Sophia’s life is constrained and dull, with her maid Maria (Holiday Grainger, “The Finest Hours”) her only friend.

Sophia knows that Maria is in love with a fishmonger named Willem (Jack O’Connell, “Unbroken.”) Likewise, the maid watches knowingly as a young artist named Jan (Dane DeHaan, “Chronicle”) paints a portrait of Sophia and Cornelis.

Sophia and Jan become smitten with each other almost instantly.

An abbess (Judi Dench, who earned an Oscar for “Shakespeare in Love”) is, in many respects, at the center of all these carryings-on.

At first blush, this may appear to be a sophisticated drama. But there are so many story arcs, several of them completely preposterous and coincidental, that watching it becomes tiresome – a person can suspend disbelief for only so long, after all.

The performers certainly do what they can with what they’re given. Particularly effective is Waltz as the husband whose feelings run deeper than they first appear. And of course Dench always is fun to watch.

The appearance of comedian Zach Galifianakis in a comic sidekick role brings the drama to a screeching halt, as do a couple of other moments in this uneven script.

Sometimes, the lessons about the tulip craze take over, and those are interesting, at least to those of us who enjoy The History Channel. And Danny Elfman has written another enjoyable score.

It wouldn’t be fair to say too much about the coincidences, because that would create spoilers for those who are determined to see this film. It’s fair to say that the contrivances are predictable and ludicrous enough to have you shaking your head before the movie is half-way through.

You’d have a lot more fun planning your garden for next year than you would enduring this ambitious misfire of a movie.


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.