Thursday, January 01, 2015

Into The Woods

There is a point in Into The Woods where, even if you don’t know the musical on which the film is based, you will be able to feel the excisions and compromises. I’ve never seen the show on stage, but I can’t imagine that James Lapine’s book is as top heavy and superficial as the screenplay he has written for the film. Lapine and director Rob Marshall are interested in the surfaces of things, and the darker moments feel hurried and unmotivated.. Cynics will blame Disney for not honoring the spirit of Lapine and composer Stephen Sondheim’s creation, but whatever the cause the film is uneven and tentative.

When Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) meets the Wolf (Johnny Depp) on the way to her grandmother’s house the result is the most literal possible enactment of the old tale, right down to Red and Grandma being rescued from the Wolf’s belly without a hint of any underlying menace or sexuality. The rescuer is a kindly man known as The Baker (James Corden), who has come to the woods on a quest to break a curse and allow his wife (Emily Blunt) to conceive a child. Corden and Blunt are both appealing, but there’s little time to get to know them because Marshall and Lapine stay focused on the tasks they must complete to satisfy the neighboring witch (Meryl Streep). Marshall stages innumerable scenes of Corden and Blunt crossing paths in the woods and being surprised to each other, they might as well be Amazing Race contestants.  There’s also a no-nonsense Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) who flees the Prince (Chris Pine in the film’s most surprising performance) not once but three times. That is made very clear. Everyone sings adequately enough though I can’t imagine any of the actors filling a Broadway house with their voice. We’re left with Sondheim’s lyrics, which imagine a wish as an irrational act - there’s no use asking for things, life will get you - and a world where innocence is always being stripped away. When one character’s actions put everyone in jeopardy the film almost spins out of control as things get rushed. I hated everything about the fate of Emily Blunt’s character, including the way it was shot and motivated. Stephen Sondheim deserved a better movie but if he had gotten one then I’m not sure it would have gotten a splashy Christmas release. Into The Woods feels like something badly translated from another language, and I suppose there is a sense that that’s exactly what it is.

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