Chris Pine, as he shouts “Agony!” off a waterfall in one of the film’s funniest sequences, perfectly sums up how I felt about the bafflingly erratic Into the Woods, the Rob Marshall-directed (Oscar-winner Chicago and the awful Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) adaptation of James Lupine and Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning Broadway musical.
I am probably not the person to ask about whether or not Into the Woods is a success or not. I am not familiar with the Broadway show, nor any of the other productions since, so I do not know the changes that have been made here and have not come into this adaptation with a pre-acquired appreciation. I actually find musicals mostly irritating, with a catchy song here and there, so naturally I find it hard to recommend this musical-cinema experience.
The story is set around four well-known Grimm Fairytale stories – Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk and Cinderella – with the characters from those stories colliding with a baker and his wife (Emily Blunt and James Corden), a childless couple seeking to end a curse placed upon them by a vengeful witch (Meryl Streep). It is their story. They must procure four items, one from each of the tales. We don’t see much action from the tales (Jack’s climb up the beanstalk for example), messily juggled here, but it is more interested in the world between them and how the kindly couple amusingly influence the lives of these beloved characters. Prince Charming (Pine), who pines for Cinderella but isn’t monogamous, and a Wolf (Johnny Depp), who ‘desires’ Little Red Riding Hood, are thrown in for good measure.
Not even the costumes or the design of the central setting, the very apparent set-woods where most of the action takes place, are particularly outstanding. There are a few clever songs that I enjoyed, and some quite funny character interactions, but there wasn’t much I cared for.
The Broadway show, I believe, has two very clear acts. They are opposing tonally, but this is by design. The first act – the fun one – ends with the ‘happily ever after’ ending. Then, that is completely obliterated and the life lessons start. Characters are killed off and forgotten about, everyone is blamed for some hand in the disastrous turn of events, and things get pretty dark. The result of this prolonged and laborious second half: a very tedious film.
The performances are all over the place, too. Pine is the memorable because his awfulness is accentuated for comedic effect. Streep is collecting all of the recognition for…participating, but it is Blunt and Corden who are the most fun here. Poor Emily Blunt. For some reason she is repeatedly asked to leave the film, or told to ‘go home’ by her husband for story sake. Thankfully, she finds her way back in, makes the most of it and helps keep this bearable.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: Rob Marshall
Writer(s): James Lapine (screenplay), James Lapine (musical)
Starring: Emily Blunt, James Corden, Anna Kendrick, Meryl Streep, Chris Pine
Runtime: 125 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: January 8 2015