If you decided to head to a movie theater on Labor Day weekend, you probably found slim pickings. August and September can be a weak time for films, as it's after the big blockbusters of the summer season, but before the prestige films of awards season. Sometimes, though, studios use this time to open a movie they know is bad, since they think no one will notice — which seems to be the case with the Alicia Vikander period piece Tulip Fever. But even if you've been watching Twitter have a field day with this movie's mangled release, you may not know exactly what's up with Tulip Fever and why there's so much drama surrounding the long-delayed and much-maligned film.
As it turns out, the story behind the making of the movie could probably make for a pretty interesting film itself. Based on Deborah Moggach's 2000 novel of the same name, Tulip Fever took 17 years to make and finally hit theaters in September. According to Vulture, the rights to the film changed hands a number of times, and at one point, probably shortly before or after the novel's publication, Steven Spielberg was attached. Tulip Fever then went through a handful of directors and cast members, including Shakespeare in Love helmer John Madden and potential stars in Keira Knightley and Jude Law. After repeated delays, the movie, a love quadrangle set in 1600s Holland during the height of tulip mania, finally went into production with Peter Chelsom behind the camera and the Weinstein Company as producers in 2005. But the British tax incentives the movie was taking advantage of were snatched away at a moments notice, leaving 12,000 tulip bulbs behind.
It then took almost a decade for the movie to find its permanent cast and crew. The version of Tulip Fever out now stars Alicia Vikander and Dane DeHaan and is directed by Justin Chadwick of The Other Boleyn Girl, and it was shot in 2014. The film tells the story of an unhappily-married Dutch woman (Vikander) who begins a love affair with the man (DeHaan) her husband (Christoph Waltz) hires to paint her portrait. Together, they concoct an elaborate plan to invest in Amsterdam's intense tulip market (an actual thing at the time) and earn enough money to... well, that's not really clear. Along with the complicated tulip market storyline, there are faked pregnancies and character misrepresentations (Waltz's "evil" character is actually the most sympathetic in the whole film).
But sadly, the bungled story line is just one of the problems due to the fact that the movie was delayed repeatedly and obviously extensively re-tooled during that time. At first, once the final cast was set, the film appeared ready for a 2015 release. Having the look of a prestigious costume drama, it was assumed that the Weinstein Company would parade it out that fall, but awards season came and went with no tulips bloomed. Then, it was set for a release date in July 2016, which was pushed back to February 2017, then pushed back again to this summer, where it was finally pushed back yet again from August to September. The repeated delays, apparent recuts, and rumors of financial troubles landed Tulip Fever the role of an industry joke. Which is why, if you follow film critics on Twitter, you may have seen a number of them landing digs at the film over the past few weeks.
And it seems that Harvey Weinstein knew that was coming. On the day of Tulip Fever's actual release, the producer published a piece on Deadline that detailed his version of events leading to the downfall of the film. "It took longer than it should have to get it all done and in our business that means, 'Uh-oh! Something must be wrong with it,'" Weinstein wrote. "I know this film’s not perfect, very few are," he continued, "but it’s a perfectly good time in a movie theater."
If that sounds defensive, it probably is; Weinstein must've guessed that critics would give Tulip Fever negative reviews. And while that ended up being the case (it has a 10 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes), the movie actually isn't horrible. I happened to be one of the few film critics to attend a screening before the studio unceremoniously cancelled the rest, and I truly didn't think the movie was that bad. It obviously suffers from too many recuts, a discombobulated story, and absolute zero chemistry between its two stars. Still, Judi Dench as a wisecracking nun is fun to watch, the costumes are really stunning, and the movie would make for a fine airplane ride watch after a sleeping pill and one or two Chardonnays.
But a marvelous train wreck goes down in history much more than a minor accident. Tulip Fever may have earned the reputation of a wreck, headed for bad movie nights or wine-fueled replays on basic cable, but it didn't stick the landing enough to become infamously so-bad-it's-good. It pretty much bombed at the box office in its opening weekend, one of Labor Day's worst in the past few years.
So despite the feverish fun the film's delays and rumors brought for a few Twitter critics and their fans, the worst that can be said about Tulip Fever is that it was just... meh.