Sorry this post is a day later than promised…I know you were all compulsively refreshing the page every five seconds to find out what I thought about the movie. Yesterday was a very busy day for me–I spent the whole day watching movies with a friend, followed by a meeting of Watson’s Tin Box, a Sherlock Holmes scion society. Both were lovely, and I will tell you about both later 🙂 However, I promised Into the Woods, so Into the Woods you shall have. Warning: spoilers abound. So if you don’t know what Into the Woods is about or how it ends, I can’t imagine why you’re here but either flee or be prepared. You have been warned.
I don’t think anyone can review this movie without discussing the expectations they had going into it. If you are at all into musical theater, you have a history with this musical (or at least with Sondheim, the composer). Love it, hate it–there are very few who can just take it or leave it. Sondheim incites strong emotions in people. Full disclosure–I happen to love it. This musical showed me how powerful art can be and made me a lifelong musical lover at the tender age of twelve. I have been an ardent devotee ever since. So it was with some trepidation that I greeted the knowledge of this film’s arrival. I don’t generally hate film adaptations–I actually like the “Les Mis” movie for many reasons, warts and all. I was not convinced just by existing that this movie was going to be a terrible flop. But I did have some reservations.
1) I was worried it was Disney, and that it might be sanitized too much. I am a huge Disney fan and know they can make adult-ish movies (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise has both gory and sexy adult moments) but this musical has a dark side, y’all, and I was worried they’d only represent the one-dimensional fairy tales without exploring their darker underpinnings.
2) Kids as the kids! Little Red and Jack (of Beanstalk fame) are traditionally played by adult actors. This news fed into my fears above, particularly when I found out the film would be rated “PG”. This musical is not “PG”.
But I liked the look of the trailer, I recognized that the musical has a lot of magical elements which could be brought to life on screen in a way it can’t be done on stage, and I stuck to my bottom line, which is the more musicals out there, the better. So I was cautiously optimistic as I awaited the film’s release, which set me apart as a heretic among my more cynical (wiser?) friends.
So, I saw the movie. And I thought it was pretty okay. It was not the train wreck everyone said it was going to be, but I didn’t feel it deserved the rapturous accolades it was getting in the press, either. (It received a 71% on rotten tomatoes, while the much more heartfelt and innovative “Annie” received a 29%.) I feel a little left out, to be honest–I can’t be a lover or a hater. Here are my specific thoughts:
1) the movie was almost perfectly cast. Other than Meryl Streep and Anna Kendrick, I wasn’t in love with any of the actors, but they all really stepped up. The singing, with the exception of Chris Pine’s atrocious auto-tune (and maybe also Johnny Depp, but I love him so very much and I will forgive him anything so I can’t be too critical), is unimpeachable. Emily Blunt dazzles as the Baker’s wife with an atypical, softer portrayal of the character who supports her husband rather than heckles him. James Corden is a delight. I’ve already mentioned Johnny Depp. 🙂 Even the kids are fine. There’s not a Russell Crowe-esque standout of badness here other than Chris Pine, and he’s not onscreen a lot.
2) The first “act” of the movie was really good. Sure, they cut some songs (and verses of songs) but I felt it was faithful to the spirit of the show. The “I Know things Now” CGI-bad wolf sequence was weird, but it wasn’t too distracting. Also, WIND! They are in the WOODS, y’all, and there are leaves and breezes and other nature-y things that constantly remind you that we’re outside, in the elements. It’s cool in a way you can’t really replicate onstage, and that (to me) is the whole point of a movie-musical: to go further and bring something new that is unique to this medium. And the first part does that well.
3) The second “act” was pretty bad. It starts when the giant arrives mid-wedding, in place of the song “Ever After”. Now look–I know it’s not a stage play anymore, and it might have been weird to do “Ever After”/
“So Happy” back to back without the benefit of an intermission in between. But dang it, maybe the show needs the intermission. The tonal shift between the first and second act is BIG and it’s important to tie a bow around Act I and let you (briefly) experience the happiness before it all gets cruelly snatched away. And I think everything went downhill from there. The pacing was (understandably) off, and everything else seemed rushed. Like, if we get through all the deaths fast enough, maybe the kiddies won’t realize the body count is piling up? I’m not sure why the film-makers decided to sprint to the ending, but it was just jumpy and bad. There wasn’t time to get invested in characters before they disappeared and (presumably) died. I felt off-balance the entire second half and never regained my momentum.
4) There are a few moments of brilliance in Act II. The Baker’s wife’s death actually had my heart pounding for a moment. And when the witch turns around with the baby at the beginning of “Last Midnight” and sings the first verse to him in a twisted lullaby, my jaw dropped. But the end of the film is supposed to feel cathartic, and it doesn’t. Because we’re not suffering or afraid long enough to deserve the redemption.Act II is supposed to be too long and uncomfortable. People are supposed to die, often. The ending is supposed to come by the skin of our teeth, having barely escaped destruction ourselves. In this version, we are not nearly in peril enough to be grateful for our salvation. It’s too easily won, and therefore not valued.
5) The Mysterious Man. You cannot cut him. You did. It was terrible. Enough said. I could rant for ages but I won’t. But this was a huge mistake.
Ultimately, I think the cast did a wonderful job. It’s a shame the directors didn’t entrust more of this wonderful story to them. Who knows how powerful it would have been to see the whole show, instead of merely a truncated, awkward version?
Am I way off base here? What did you think? Tune in the rest of this week for more movies, holiday hijinks, and the Sherlock Holmes society meeting!!