Into the Woods, 2014.
Directed by Rob Marshall.
Starring Anna Kendrick, Daniel Huttlestone, James Corden, Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Christine Baranski, Chris Pine, Tammy Blanchard, Johnny Depp and Lilla Crawford.
This adaptation of the popular fairytale-blending stage play finds a baker and his wife on the receiving end of an ultimatum from an evil witch: they must find and collect four specific items in the woods by the next two midnights if they ever want to conceive a child…
Into the Woods should have been a tonic. It should have been a blast of wild escapism in a month filled with deep, austere, thinking pictures like Foxcatcher and American Sniper. While they’re busy being serious and vying for awards, Into the Woods should have been busy injecting adrenalin into subdued audiences. But it wasn’t: why? They key factor in pinpointing the film’s failure is understanding that it thinks it’s doing all that. And why shouldn’t it? All the right ingredients are there: the flashy cast, the solid (if unspectacular) director, the lucrative production design, the Stephen Sondheim music. It should be great, so just what it is that fails so drastically? In the end there are a number of problems riddled throughout this elongating 125 minutes (that’s one of them), but the big one, the deal-breaker, is that it’s absolutely, completely and utterly all over the place.
That’s not something to accuse lightly, and, being the type of film that really needs a dash of madness, there could be a positive spin to the idea of a film genuinely appearing to have no clue what’s going on the majority of the time; only it’s not madness in this instance, it’s just unstructured lunacy. An adaptation of the twenty-something year old stage play, the plot finds a baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) on the receiving end of an ultimatum from an evil witch (Streep): they must find and collect four specific items by the next two midnights, else they’ll never be able to conceive. So off they go, eponymously into the woods, to find said items and save said child. Meanwhile, other characters we know from various fairytales (Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack of the beanstalk) also saunter into the woods in variously foul moods to carry out their own errands.
As everyone begins to cross paths, what becomes apparent is that nobody involved appears to be making the same film, which results in an end product aimed at both everyone and no-one at all. One minute it’s trying to be grown-up and moralistic, the next it’s all slapstick aimed at kids, and the next it’s throwing innuendos – even sexual – at us and blending the candy-sprinkled fairytales we’ve come to know with some of the original and somewhat disturbing endings. “Look kids, the character you love just fell off a cliff and died.” Even the way in which some lines are delivered, like Little Red Riding Hood’s “Oh dear, how uneasy I feel” upon finding her grandmother’s door ajar, are so flippant that we can’t help but wonder if everyone but the audience is just in on some big joke. Somewhere, whether in the screenplay, the direction, the editing or otherwise, something has gone wrong. Nothing fits; it’s like someone borrowing pieces from a different puzzle and forcing them into their own.
All that said, the cast individually are actually pretty good. Meryl Streep, recently nominated for an Oscar for her turn as the catalytic witch, and Emily Blunt are both standouts, but the one person who surprisingly steals the show is Chris Pine as the dashing yet vain prince who spends the entire film chasing after Anna Kendrick’s Cinderella. He at least appears to understand that the film, if unintentionally, is kind of taking the micke out of itself as he channels a wonderfully odd, regal, mid-Atlanic accent complete with utterly smug eyes. Playing the character so irreverently and confidently turns his scenes into the funniest and most rewarding in the film.
There’s positively no pleasure taken in writing such heavily derisive words, but when even the songs, unbeknown to this reviewer but classic in their own right – and essentially the essence of the whole thing, tend to be performed with such a lack of vigour and panache, it’s hard to get excited about much else. If you really try there’s some fun stuff in here; the odd joke, good performances, enjoyable scenery; but really it’s all a bit of a mess. A structureless, ridiculous and very long mess. If you go into the cinema, try to avoid going into the woods.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Edward Gardiner – follow me on Twitter