UK Release Date: 9th January 2015
Runtime: 125 minutes
Director: Rob Marshall
Writer: James Lapine
Starring: James Corden, Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Johnny Depp, Lilla Crawford, Daniel Huttlestone, Tracey Ullman
Synopsis: A host of fairytale characters find their stories interwoven as a baker and his wife work to lift a witch’s curse.
The work of Stephen Sondheim was last seen on the big screen in the splattery 2007 adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. His knotty rhythms and deft lyrics are back on show in this ambitious, campy transfer to the big screen for Into the Woods, helmed with real energy by Chicago director Rob Marshall.
When a Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt) mourn their inability to have a child, they are interrupted by a Witch (Meryl Streep) who cursed their family to infertility years before. Meanwhile, Cinderella (Anna Kendrick) longs for her sisters to allow her to visit a festival so that she may dance with the dashing Prince Charming (Chris Pine) and Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford) finds her way blocked by a mysterious Wolf (Johnny Depp).
If you’re looking for joyous, campy thrills from a movie musical, then Into the Woods is likely to tick all of the right boxes. It’s a glittery, sequin-adorned jaunt through the fairytale canon, replete with silly gags and Sondheim’s trademark knotty melodies. Unfortunately, it’s also a complete mess that has no idea where to place its focus.
| "If life were only moments, then you’d never know you had one."
At the centre of the film, providing whatever narrative focus the film does have, are solid performances from James Corden and Emily Blunt. The latter, in particular, is fantastic in her role, balancing emotional heft and comedy to great effect. Her rendition of post-infidelity ballad ‘Moments in the Woods’ is the film’s real highlight and she brings a level of depth to her role that few of the other performers bother with.
The most lauded performance coming out of Into the Woods has been Meryl Streep’s noisy turn as the Witch. Whilst Streep is clearly having a whale of a time in the role, her performance is perhaps a little too overblown at times. Equally hammy is Chris Pine as one of the central princes. His performance really flies, though, especially in the delightfully over-the-top, shirt-ripping duet ‘Agony’, which is without doubt the film’s funniest scene.
Despite the immense fun to be had in the raucous world of Into the Woods, it’s impossible to escape from the fact that there’s a real unfocused, ramshackle quality to the whole thing. In its attempt to give every character something to do, none of them are actually fleshed out in any real way. When chaos unfolds in the second half of the film, any attempt at storytelling logic is summarily tossed out of the window.
| "I was raised to be charming, not sincere."
Into the Woods is an incredibly interesting film, packed with some killer songs and a sprinkling of fairytale reinvention that works nicely. Unfortunately, it is utterly hobbled by its lack of discipline and a handful of performances that really could’ve done with just a little reining in.
Pop or Poop?
There’s a certain ramshackle charm to Into the Woods that makes it an enjoyable trip to the cinema and a film I’d recommend.
However, for all of its fun, there’s a real issue with messy structure and some overly hammy performances. This could’ve done with just a little pruning.
If Sondheim is your cup of tea, go back and watch Sweeney Todd again instead.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.