Featured Post

Letterboxd Reviews

So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Movie Review - Into the Woods

Into the Woods (2014)
Starring James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, Chris Pine, Tracey Ullman, Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard, Lucy Punch, Billy Magnussen, Mackenzie Mauzy, and Johnny Depp
Directed by Rob Marshall

Note: The Disney Discussion will return soon.  In its stead, a review of Disney's latest fairy tale musical -- in live action form this time around.

"Once upon a time in a far off kingdom, there lay a small village at the edge of the woods.  And in this village lived a young maiden, a carefree young lad, and a childless baker with his wife."  The opening line of Into the Woods sets up a broad view of composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim and playwright James Lapine's Broadway classic, but the film delves deeper into a world where some of the most well-known fairy tale characters interact with one another popping up into each others' familiar stories and creating some havoc.  Director Rob Marshall does a fantastic job allowing each character's storyline to shine, giving life to Sondheim's tricky lyrical melodies, and creating a film that flows effortlessly from one tale to another.

We have Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) whose evil stepmother (Christine Baranski) and nasty stepsisters (Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch) won't allow her to attend the Royal Ball of the Prince (Chris Pine).  Then there's Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) of Jack and the Beanstalk fame whose mother (Tracy Ullman) forces her son to sell his only friend -- Milky White, a cow -- in order to add to their measly income.  The third storyline deals with a Baker (James Corden) and His Wife (Emily Blunt) who have heretofore been unable to conceive a child.  They discover in the film's opening song, however, that the haggard and ugly Witch (Meryl Streep) has placed a spell on the Baker and His Wife which the couple can break if they bring her "the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold" before three midnights pass.  Add in Little Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), a giant, and a horny wolf (Johnny Depp) and you've got a menagerie of characters.

The Baker, His Wife, and their plight are the impetus of much of the film's plot as they weave in and out of the various other characters' story lines in order to retrieve the objects from their Witch-sponsored scavenger hunt.  The first half of the film generally follows the familiar fairy tales in their typical fashion, however, as the flick progresses, things start to take a dark turn with these tried and true characters forced to do things that we typically aren't used to seeing them have to undertake.  Ultimately, Sondheim and Lapine seem to be telling us that life can't always be a fairy tale, but we still have to face the good and bad times in the best way we know how.  Yes, these are fractured fairy tales, but they're interesting twists on classics.

Sondheim's songs aren't exactly hummable and with the exception of the title number, you may very well not remember any of them upon the film's conclusion.  However, that's not necessarily a bad thing.  The film is filled to the brim with singing and the numbers flow effortlessly into one another and that's certainly attributed to Sondheim's songs, Lapine's book/screenplay, and Rob Marshall's direction.  Marshall isn't exactly a prolific director, but this is certainly his best film since his Chicago debut.  The film appears richly atmospheric (kudos to the costume and production designers) and places its audience squarely in the titular woods.

Sondheim's lyrics are a tricky beast to wrap your tongue around, but the cast gamely takes on the task of giving life to his words (and his uniquely syncopated rhythms).  James Corden and Emily Blunt are charming, witty, and carry the film admirably.  Lilla Crawford and Daniel Hiddleston are exactly what their young characters need to be -- adventurous, yet longing for guidance.  Meryl Streep hardly ever delivers a bad performance and this is no exception.  Award worthy?  I'm not quite sure, but she doesn't disappoint in the slightest.  Two of the film's best moments, however, belong to Anna Kendrick and Chris Pine whose romantic relationship as Cinderella and her Prince isn't exactly the epitome of perfection.  As Cinderella flees the ball, time stands still and Kendrick sings a lovely tune about how she's unsure of what she wants for her life.  Pine also gets a similarly-themed number about longing, although his slimy, though utterly charismatic and charming Prince has quite a different spin on his wishes and desires.

I will admit that I was expecting to be a little let down by Into the Woods.  Musicals are tough sells sometimes, often feeling hokey or corny unless the right tone is set right at the film's open.  However, from the opening two minutes, I could tell that Marshall was giving us a piece that wasn't ashamed of the notion that it was a musical.  It embraced the genre and, in turn, is the best live action musical since The Muppets in 2011.

It should be noted that I've been holding off writing this review for over a week now.  This is one of those movies that I really liked, yet can't quite get comfortable with expressing my thoughts on it.  Don't let my bland review (which flows so disappointingly for my taste) discourage you from seeing this one.

The RyMickey Rating:  B+

No comments:

Post a Comment