Jan 1, 2015

My Family Reviews 'Into the Woods'

The holidays mean many things to me: present opening, family outings (and innings) that are mandatory and often welcome, hot chocolate drinking that makes me sick for hours after the last sip has been sipped, and forcefully making my family watch movies with me and then reviewing them. This year, the first of the movies we watched together was the delightful Into the Woods, and the family members present were me, my parents, my sister, and my brother-in-law. Here is our review.

Into the Woods, the film version of the Stephen Sondheim musical, tells the story of The Baker and The Baker's Wife, who find out that their fertility issues (there are buns in their
ovens but no bun in her oven) are the result of a witch's curse. To appease the witch and have a child, the two must venture into the mysterious woods that surround their village in order to find a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold before midnight in three days' time. Joining them in the woods are a series of familiar fairy tale characters. There's Jack (of ...and the Beanstalk fame), begrudgingly entering the woods to sell his cow and save him and his mother from destitution. There's Cinderella, who ventures into the woods to make her way to the Prince's ball. There's Rapunzel, who's stuck in a tower with only her creepy, adoptive mother for company. And there's Little Red Riding Hood, who ventures into the woods to bring bread and sweets to her sick grandmother. From the set up, you can pretty much guess what happens in each of these intertwining stories, but the musical is more interested in what comes after the "...and they all lived happily ever after." What happens when you get everything you want and find it lacking, or find that you miss what you had before? Sondheim's musical uses familiar tropes, playing on the audience's expectations to delve deeply into murky moral and psychological issues of love, sexual awakening, loss, parenthood, and responsibility. To a lesser extent, the Rob Marshall film does as well.

The Story

Tableau: Into the Woods is one of my favorite musicals, and the movie has some of my favorite actors in it. Still, with Disney behind it and the taste of bile still left in my mouth after watching Annie, I went into the theater with pretty low expectations. And I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, a lot of the sadness and grief of the second act is diminished or removed, but I think that the heart of the musical remains.

Brother-in-Law: I think it sanded the edges too much. I'm not as familiar with the musical, but it seems like, in making it more family-friendly while also keeping in most of the plot, the film lost a lot of clarity. Some of the story was confusing.

Sister: Maybe it's just because I knew that there were going to be deaths and destruction, I was clear on most things throughout the movie. If you know that characters are going to die, you are less confused when you see them fall out of frame or faint unexpectedly.

Mom: I think the story made sense throughout, and it moved so quickly. I was expecting a 2-hour-long movie to feel laborious, but I was surprised by how quickly everything progressed. Even with musical numbers mixed in.

T: I do think that it took a little too long to get everyone into the woods. With the cutting back and forth between the stories for the first 10 minutes of the film, I was starting to lose interest in some of the stories before they had even begun.

B: Well, you're going to get that with an ensemble movie.

S: It's going to take a while for things to get going, and some characters draw the short straw.

T: Once they're in the woods, though, people were certainly active. And speaking of woods, was anyone else confused by the geography and dendrology? It seemed like they were gallivanting in so many different kinds of woods. The trees didn't seem to make sense.

Dad: And the interior shots of the woods didn't really match the farther away shots of the trees.

T: I mean, you're the tree expert.  Could that forest even exist?

D: It could be some kind of lowland forest community, but it's not likely.

T: But that didn't take you out of the movie?

D: More than the talking wolves, witch curses, and magic, you mean? No, somehow I was able to enjoy the movie even with the tree inconsistencies.

B: The sass is strong in that one.

T: Getting back to what you were saying before, I do feel that, with the family-friendliness of it all, the Rapunzel and Little Red portions of the movie almost didn't make sense. Without spoiling anything, both of those stories go in much darker directions in the musical than they do here. And without that darkness, their stories are more fluff than anything else.

S: It doesn't help that the Little Red story line has Johnny Depp in it as the Wolf.

[Collective groans at the mention of Johnny Depp's name]

B: Depp was bad in this movie, but I can't honestly say that anyone else could have done a better job. It's a strange line to tow between being super creepy and but not creepy enough to up the MPAA rating of the film.

D: It's a pretty thankless part.

T: And, thankfully, it's a small part, He really only has one scene, and then you can spend the rest of the movie forgetting he exists.

The Acting

M: The acting was, with the exception of Johnny Depp, pretty great. Not really a false note. And I liked that some of the actors who were less famous still kept up with the rest of the cast.

D: I think the Baker (James Corden) was my favorite. His turmoils and troubles were really relatable.

T: You've worried about being a terrible father?

D: No, but I've gotten lost in the woods plenty of times.

S: Emily Blunt (as The Baker's Wife) was definitely my favorite. She's delighful in every scene she's in. Even her facial expressions and body movements are interesting. And she worked really well with The Baker and Meryl Streep (as The Witch).

T: I agree. She's the glue that holds the movie together, and she's definitely the most active character. She wants something, and she goes to many great lengths to get it, including thievery and trickery. So, she's not perfect, but I love a female character with a strong sense of agency.

M: What about Anna Kendrick? I love her, and her voice is wonderful, but how do you think she does as Cinderella?
Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt in a The Devil Wears Prada reunion!

D: I think she did great with the material she was given. And her song ("On The Steps of the Palace") was really nice.

B: She is a character that is helped a lot by the second act. She doesn't have a lot to do in the first half of the movie.

T: Which is sort of the whole point of her character. She's going through the motions of what's expected of her, like going to the ball and falling in love with a charming prince, without really thinking about why she wants those things.

S: And Chris Pine (as Prince Charming) was great!  I was really expecting that he was going to be the weak link in the movie, and I was really surprised at how good he was. His scenes were my favorite parts of the movie. And I liked the other Prince as well (Billy Magnussen). And his pants.

D: And I liked the way that the princes change the way you look at these fairy tale stories. Their behavior really makes you examine the ideas that we're putting in our kids heads, that men are there to rescue you and women are just there to be rescued. It challenges these really well-worn gender stereotypes, and that's great.

M: And Meryl Streep!

B: It's kind of one of those things where, when you're discussing great performances, you have to take out Meryl Streep to make it more fair for the rest of the cast. She's operating on a higher level.

M: Her performance was effortless. It's a hard part to play, but she never takes you out of the movie.

T: And, with the changes in the story, she had a lot more heavy lifting to do to sell her anger and despair.

B: Her scenes with The Baker and his wife work a lot better than her scenes with Rapunzel. I didn't really get what was going on there.

D: She was better than I thought she was going to be. I think her voice had been manipulated more than some of the other singers.

S: But she sounded good, and not too auto-tuned. She sang way better here than she did in Mamma Mia!

T: Did you like the songs, in general?

D: The songs are great, and they add a lot to the story.

T: In the musical, so many of the songs are recapping action rather than actually being in the moment. Of all the changes I think that the filmmakers made, making the songs more active was one of the best. It was a nice case of using the advantage of movie-making to show a lot of things that can't be shown on a stage.

D: But you didn't see too much. It wasn't all special effects.

Overall Thoughts

B: It is entertaining, but nothing really meaningful.

S: I liked it.  A lot. I give it a better rating than Brother-in-Law does. I thought it was a lot of fun, and, even though I'm not a huge fan of going to movie theaters. I liked it. It's the kind of movie you want to watch on a big screen.

D: I liked it. I liked the complexity of the characters and the story.

S: And you don't need to see the musical or know much about it to enjoy the movie. 

M: I think the acting was great, even from the child actors. The movie wasn't a waste of money or time.

T: Agreed. I don't think all of it worked, and I question some of the directorial touches. Some of the humor isn't quite up to par, and the plot is reworked to the film's detriment. Still, it's a solid movie and a pretty great musical.

M: I thought Tracey Ullman (as Jack's mother) and Little Red (Lilla Crawford) were funny.

B: And the movie had the right ration of singing to talking.

Anne Hathaway, still sad while
thinking of Russell Crowe's performance
T: So, better than Les Miserables. You can't get more singing than that.

S: That movie had bigger problems than the singing. Namely, Russell Crowe.

T: Do you think that he would have been better with less singing?

B: There was no fixing Russell Crowe.

S: So many movie versions of musicals are soooo bad. It's nice to see one that's actually good and entertaining.

T: Indeed. It seems like it would be so easy to accomplish, and it's so rarely done right.

D: It's nice to see a movie get things right.

S: Except, why did The Witch have to climb Rapunzel's hair to get up to the top of the tower? Couldn't she just magic herself up there?

T: Oh, yeah. huh. MOVIE RUINED BY LOGIC!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...