Thursday, December 25
REVIEW: Into the Woods
Directed by Rob Marshall
2 hours 4 minutes
We know I am a big musical fan. And I have always enjoyed Rob Marshall movies. Chicago was a super favorite and I even quite liked Nine and I may be just one of nine people on the planet who did. I heard some carping about Memoirs of a Geisha, but I took to it as well. I am not too wild about fantasy-based flicks but thought all the rest would override that. It didn't.
Based on the Broadway musical, it concerns a witch who has put an infertility curse on a baker and his wife. Since they desperately want a child, they have agreed to perform various tasks with characters who belong in fairy tales... Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel. If this sounds good to you, then you're likely to enjoy your two hours and four minutes more than I did.
The songs (and there must be a thousand of them, I swear) were written by Stephen Sondheim, great guru of the Great White Way, and not a single one is distinguishable from any of the others. Most of us would agree that failure to walk out of a theater and not be humming at least one song or perhaps wanting to go download the soundtrack means a musical is doomed. If this doesn't bother you, then you may like this film a whole lot more than I did.
I found the songs (more the lyrics than the music) as an exercise in tedium. Many were done by several members of the cast in different locations. For example, during one song Corden and Blunt would sing a few lines in their bake shop, then a few are sung by Streep in the woods, the next few by Kendrick on a cobblestone street and so on. I'm making some of that up but you get the point. If you like that sort of thing, you're probably going to find something in this film that escaped my attention.
While we're at it, this is almost nonstop music. Spoken dialogue is nearly nonexistent. The same could be said about Chicago and to some degree Nine and while I don't mind that, it's got to have a score that thrums with excitement. On that note, Evita comes to mind. If you mind this operatic sort of venue, you're not going to much care for this film.
Something happened in the final act that I found disconcerting. There was a spot that looked like the end was coming and it should have. But it went on with some dark gobbledygook that made little sense. There was a decided tonal shift in the telling that was uncomfortable and little was resolved. Despite the fact that it seemed an afternoon-long, I still left with a that's it?
It seems odd to trust a musical that is nonstop singing to basically non-singers but I think they pulled it off well. I heard some decent voices. On the acting front, it conformed to the material but in my mind's eye this is not a film to be discussing Oscar nominations. Not anyone! If you're going for Johnny Depp, are you going to be disappointed. He plays the wolf (as in Little Red Riding Hood) and is on screen about four minutes.
I did perk up when Chris Pine, as Cinderella's prince, was on view. He was hands down the prettiest thing in the whole affair.
A bravura job was turned in by the art and set decoration folks and nice camerawork by Dion Beebe.
I'm not sure where the audience here is going to come from, other than longtime fans of the musical. Or perhaps there's an actor here whose work you simply can't or don't miss. Or you like fantasy stuff. Ok, I get that. But for a newbie to the material, I think word-of-mouth will mainly be to warn people off. It just doesn't quite all come together.