review – into the woods

Into_The_Woods_(film)

I love movie musicals. I could watch them forever – which is approximately how long this one seemed to go on. At just over two hours, it seems like it’s at least a half hour too long. The premise is interesting – combine the iconic stories of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk with a witch’s curse and a couple wishing for a child – and set it loose in song. It’s the Brothers Grimm told in the music and lyrics of James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim – but unfortunately it’s told without much wit, any sense of wonder, or the feeling of magic that is uniquely a part of a great musical. There are no real lights and darks, no highs and lows, no scenes that stick forever in memory, no toe-tapping spine-tingling moments that bring audiences to their feet. Characters lack distinctive personalities, songs seem interchangeable, the story struggles to gain traction, the direction lacks direction.

05To be fair, there are several good performances and good morals – or at least songs about good morals – including the trials of growing up, becoming a couple, and leaving childhood behind. Johnny Depp is imaginatively creepy as the Wolf; Meryl Steep is an inspired choice as the Witch; and Emily Blunt (the Baker’s wife) and James Corden (the Baker) bring a sense of chemistry and compassion to their roles. But director Rob Marshall (“Chicago,” “Nine”) has done much better, more energized work before. At one point, the movie does end – happily, the way fairy tales often do – and we’re satisfied. But the filmmakers have an idea for a whole third act and to say it was a giant ponderous disappointment would be an understatement. When it was finally over, there was no applause from the audience. If the cast had been there, they would not have been invited back for an encore. It all felt, somehow, long, draggy – and incomplete. “Sometimes,” as one of the lines in this movie says, “people leave you halfway through the woods.”

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