Into the Woods (Walt Disney Studios, PG)

film into-the-woods_smDirector Rob Marshall opens up Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s stage musical nicely, making it feel sufficiently cinematic and not just like a filmed play.

 

 

 

film into-the-woods

I often get accused of not liking musicals, which I don’t think is fair. As with all other genres, I like good musicals, but I find myself at odds with what many people think a good musical is. For example, I hated Chicago, which everyone else seemed to like, much to my dismay. And now Chicago director Rob Marshall is back, this time with Into the Woods, which sends up some flags from the outset: Apart from his name being on it, it features showy roles for Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp, who in recent years have been a casting choices of which I’ve debated the merit (not that either is bad, but I’ve been increasingly weary of the types of movies they tend to take roles in). One also has to wonder why Streep would be so quick to work with Marshall after he directed Daniel Day-Lewis in the worst role of his career, 2009’s Nine.

As it turns out, Into the Woods is a mostly pretty functional film. Marshall reigns in his Baz Luhrman–imitating past to make this film a lot less gaudy, but all the while opens up Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s stage musical nicely, making it feel sufficiently cinematic and not just like a filmed play.

Into the Woods’ story weaves together a number of classic fairytales—Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Rapunzel—but it doesn’t tell them short-story style; instead, the film reframes them to where they exist in one universe, and sometimes overlap with one another. Anna Kendrick is a welcome addition to the cast as Cinderella, and in a lot of ways it feels like her film, despite the fact that she’s not really the “main character” (the film doesn’t really have one); this may just be because her star is on the rise, and she won so many musical fans because of her performance in 2012’s Pitch Perfect (the sequel to which is coming soon, no less). Depp’s performance, as the Wolf in the Little Red Riding Hood story, has the stench of Tim Burton on it, but Streep carries off her role of the Witch nicely. And, hey, at least fucking Helena Bonham Carter didn’t get the part.

The one original story that helps glue the others together is that of a baker and his wife, and it is usually them through which we experience the world of the movie. The baker’s wife is played by Emily Blunt, who is good in everything she does (did you see Edge of Tomorrow earlier this year?), and Into the Woods is no exception. Somehow the role of the baker went to James Corden, who was insufferable in One Chance a few months back. It’s frustrating to see them nail the casting of some of these roles, but totally screw up others.

Still, I’m impressed by the fact that this is the first Rob Marshall film I haven’t absolutely despised, and also that it’s the second halfway decent Hollywood musical to come out in as many weeks (the other being Annie, which I seem to be in the minority in liking; maybe I live in musical bizarro world). So can you please stop accusing me of not liking musicals? | Pete Timmermann

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