I’m sitting here thinking about the last musical I saw, and I suppose it must have been last year’s Les Misérables, which was also released around Christmastime. I don’t know what it is about the holidays that gets people to the mood to sing, and while I’m not wholly adverse to musicals-on-film as a concept, it’s an exceptionally difficult formula to get right. Originally an exceptionally notable Broadway musical, Into the Woods has been hacked apart and reassembled, albeit with a few bits missing, in order to make it ready for its silver screen debut. Unfortunately, the finished product doesn’t quite hit the mark, and despite it’s star-studded cast, comes across as a bit hurried and slapdash.
Directed by Rob Marshall of Memoirs of a Geisha (2002) and Chicago (2005) fame, the films ostensibly seemed to be inexperienced hands from its inception. Somewhere along the way, however, some of its teeth seemed to fall out, leaving the production a bland and flavorless heap. Even the color scheme—an underwhelming motley of browns, greens, and greys—proved to be as uninteresting as the music itself. Marshall, also serving as the musical stager, was presumably responsible (or at the very least had a hand in) the choreography as well, though he dropped the ball in that department as well. Nearly all of the numbers comprised of characters ducking in and out of the low-hanging trees and mist-covered floor of the woods in question, and got incredibly boring incredibly quickly. I’m not even asking for a the spectacular set pieces and big-budget production value of Les Mis, but at least a little variety would be nice.
Into the Woods features an ensemble cast, members of which include Meryl Streep, James Cordon, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Chris Pine, Lilla Crawford, and Jonny Depp for about four-fifths of a second. In my opinion, the cast isn’t to blame for the film’s shortcomings, and indeed, in different hands, less restrictive hands, the production might have turned out exponentially more watchable. Cordon and Blunt seemed to have a good chemistry, and many of their quips found their mark, and even Pine and his on-screen rival played by Billy Magnussen had a joyfully overblown duet which played to the natural machismo of both. Surprisingly, if there was any real shortcoming as far as casting was concerned, it would have to be leveled at Streep, whose performance seemed oddly phoned-in, almost as if she had a number of other places that she would rather be.
Having been chopped up and spat back out as part of the intensive rewriting process notwithstanding, the story deserves close examination, as the film takes though a twisting miasma of several different fairy tales all crammed into a single hour-and-a-half long film. The film takes elements from “Cinderella,” “Jack and the Bean Stalk,” “Rapunzel,” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” and fumbles nearly every one. Characters from one story might appear in another for no other reason than to milk the gimmick, and when they do show up, the can almost never think of anything relevant for them to do. Case in point: Little Red’s story is the first to be concluded (probably within the first twenty minutes) yet she sticks around for the rest of the cast for the duration nonetheless, contributing nothing besides being a part of a truly ill-conceived and ham-fisted romance subplot that’s as nonsensical as it is unnecessary.
It’s tough writing about a topic that one has no interest in, and though I’ve admittedly never seen the Broadway version, this was it’s chance to make me care about the property. Suffice it to say, it the film utterly fails to garner even enough interest to make it worth reviewing. With a go-nowhere story and ultimately uninteresting musical numbers that routinely fell flat, the film adaptation of Into the Woods in certainly worth missing this holiday season.
Rating: 2 out of 5