Into the Woods (Movie Review)

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When the film came out in the cinemas and the critics started giving the film decent-at-best reviews I was pissed. As a big fan of Sondheim and Lapine’s stage musical I just thought that the critics didn’t understand the satirical show. But when I then saw the film, I immediately realized that the critics had been fair to the film. It is a decent film with some great things and some not-so-great things. The acting and singing is decent, the cinematography and set is stunning, but the screenplay and editing are poor.

This was James Corden’s first major role in an American feature film, and he does not take it lightly. Corden puts in a charming and charismatic performance that is also witty and fun. His character also goes through some significantly drastic character development that Corden understands and does well. His singing may not be perfect, but he manages to get through the score without any major upsets. Playing opposite him as his wife is Emily Blunt puts in an equally charismatic and charming performance that offers some almost-as-interesting development and great onscreen chemistry with Corden. Blunt, however, doesn’t just get through the score, but embraces it and really makes it compelling and fun.

As the spontaneous witch, Meryl Streep, puts in a fun, but perhaps lazy performance that doesn’t quite capture the character. I know she was nominated for an Oscar and everything, but she does that every year. Her singing was great and she really made “Stay With Me” worth listening to. But she came off as sloppy and scatterbrained during some of her other scenes (especially those with Corden and Blunt). Anna Kendrick also featured as the charming and insecure Cinderella. Kendrick embraces the screenplay as well as the score and really amps up film. She has absolutely wonderful chemistry with Blunt, and she really captures the character well.

Mackenzie Mauzy plays Rapunzel, which is generally a throw-away character in the stage musical, but with Mauzy’s wooden and dull performance it’s barely even a character. Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen also feature in the film as Cinderella and Rapunzel’s princes respectively. Much like their characters’ dynamic, Pine continuously overshadows Magnussen. Pine is funny, charismatic and a strong baritone while Magnussen ends up just being there. This is truly exemplified in the song “Agony” in which you can see Magnussen’s character try to keep up with Pine’s, but you also end up feeling that Magnussen (himself) is trying to keep up with Pine.

Daniel Huttlestone and Lilla Crawford also feature in the film as the two child-characters. Huttlestone (who also appeared in the Les Miserables film) is undoubtedly a good actor, but it is such a challenge to understand him when he speaks or sings and it really takes away from a film when you can’t understand one of the leading actors (that goes for you too: Legend). Crawford, on the other hand, is charismatic, witty, and really captures the character from the original stage adaptation. This former Broadway actress is not just a great singer but she also knows how to command a scene.

Christine Baranski, Tammy Blanchard and Lucy Punch also cameo as Cinderella’s stepmother and stepsisters respectively. They all give very over-the-top performances that could have been okay onstage, but when it’s amplified on the big screen it seems awkward and malplaced. Johnny Depp also makes a cameo as the pedophilic wolf for 5 minutes, yet for some reason (well because he’s really f**king famous) he’s on every poster. What Depp does in this cameo role is essentially play a pedophilic wolf version of himself. He was handed such an interesting costume and such a chilling song, but after watching the movie, the viewer goes out of the cinema wondering why Depp was in the film. And Tracey Ullman finally throws in a handful of scenes as the meh character of Jack’s Mother in a very meh performance.

So the cast averages out to about decent. But the screenplay, which is adapted by James Lapine (who wrote the script for the musical too). And Lapine is a great playwright, but what this film lacks is an attentive screenplay that is well-paced and is not afraid of truly adapting. Because this doesn’t feel like an adaption, this feels like a (very big-budget) live recording of the stage play. Nothing major is truly omitted from this film and the few things that are don’t make any sense. While the film could have touched up on the opening number to make it more fitting for the screen, it chose not to. It chose however to cut the role of The Baker’s Father (for the most part at least) and the song “No More”, which is exactly what carried the second act of the musical. And there’s a lot of those little things that were done poorly with the screenplay that just lacks an understanding for cinema.

The film editing too is very rough and awkward. The opening number especially is very watch without cringing occasionally. The scenes will very quickly and abruptly switch creating one very bumpy number. Onstage the opening number is done with all the leading characters onstage so that they all are in view. And that is obviously hard to do onscreen, but what could maybe have worked was smoother transitions that segwayed from one character’s ‘I wish’ to the next. This could obviously also have been fixed by a screenplay that had a better understanding for film, but the editors could definitely also have done something.

The film is though visually stunning. The costumes are gorgeous with beautiful dresses, handsome prince-garments, and a very cool look for the wolf. Johnny Depp’s costume is one of the coolest costumes I’ve ever seen in a film from 2014. It isn’t actually a full-on wolf costume, but rather hints at it and this theatrical tone really does a lot for the film. The set is absolutely outstanding. There’s such a refreshing attention to detail in every scene, whether it’s in the bakery or it’s in the middle of the woods. The woods are visually stunning and are used very effectively to set the mood. While the few village shots we get are gorgeous and helps to tell the viewer the time frame. The film also uses light very well, and sound too, the very limited choreography is neat and the orchestrations sound amazing. This film is absolutely amazing when it comes to all of that stuff.

And I haven’t even mentioned the cinematography yet. Well the cinematography is maybe not as exceptional as it could have. I mean, the cinematography features some really cool shots and all, but it seem to lack that attention to emotion that makes other films’ cinematography thrive. But it is beautiful, it really is with cool shots of castles and woods and dresses and the whole razzle dazzle. On that note… Director Rob Marshall really did do some interesting things with the direction of this film. Depp’s number especially in which he has his little spotlight on the hill, and the giant scene with the Broadway-inspired staging. It all creates for a cool theatrical feel that was also prominent in Chicago.

This film is flawed. It is and there’s no denying it with an awkward screenplay that simply doesn’t adapt the great musical very well. The film however looks and sounds great and the acting is pretty decent too with Corden, Blunt and Kendrick especially. But the story has to be there in a movie, and it isnøt there in this one.

Best Aspect- Johnny Depp’s costume (not performance)

Worst Aspect- The opening number

Rating- 4.8/10

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