Director: Rob Marshall
Cast: James Corden, Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, Daniel Huttlestone, Lilla Crawford, Chris Pine with Johnny Depp and Meryl Streep
Plot: A baker (Corden) and his wife (Blunt) are cursed with the inability to have children, sending them on a quest to gather four magical items, bringing them into contact with several fairy tale characters.
Rarely do I get to see a movie that shoots itself in the foot as much as Into the Woods. Watching Rob Marshall’s cinematic adaptation of the beloved musical becomes a case of being wildly impressed at this vivid reimagining of a fairy tale landscape to suddenly being absolutely frustrated at a lack of control in the direction. Worse still, sometimes I am just plain bored.
There is a lot to like about Into the Woods and for brief periods, you can see why the critics sang its praises. Let’s start with the star of the show, Meryl Streep. Despite my reservations about this movie, I will be crossing my fingers for her to come out with the Supporting Actress award at the OSCARs later this year. She is truly magnificent, relishing the Wicked Witch role with the kind of gusto that we wished we saw in Maleficent. Streep is turning into the kind of actress that is guaranteed to put everything into work, totally unaware of the expression ‘phoning in a performance’, making her one of the veteran actors in the business. When it comes to long-term quality, Robert De Niro should be taking notes. When the direction lets her down, Streep conveys the deeper layers of characters for the writers – a flash of regret as she curses Rapunzel, a sinister wording of a song lyric or sometimes just nailing a tricky joke. Other moments that impress are the clever morals, themes and playfulness with fairy tale characters. Chris Pine jumps from romantic soul-mate, to creepy – yet endlessly funny – stalker. As the Baker and his wife con a simple-minded child out of a childhood pet, you wonder if they even deserve the child they so desperately seek. As the fairy tale characters collide, they end up accidentally contributing to each other’s stories in an imaginative, interesting way. Yes, there were moments when I leant back and really enjoyed Into the Woods, but just around the corner, there was always something to ruin the experience for me.
I think my problem with the movie was Rob Marshall. When an actress as consistently impressive as Emily Blunt flunks a line, you know that the fault isn’t with anyone but the man directing the scene. He just seems to have little control over the story. Anna Kendrick shines whenever she is given a meaty song to hit home with, but she struggles with her dialogue, making Cinderella surprisingly difficult to care for at lengthy intervals. Sure, at times I emphasised with the bloke for having to condense such a long story and have to deal with several characters. I don’t blame him for pretty much dropping Rapunzel from the main crux of the story. However, sometimes I felt there were some themes he didn’t take far enough. I wasn’t sure what emotions I was meant to be feeling at certain points. Are we meant to sympathise with Streep’s Witch in the second half of the movie? Do we want the creepy Prince to find Cinderella or not? There is being ambiguous on purpose, but then there is alienating the audience, so we don’t know which side we are meant to be on. Another problem was the fact that Into the Woods screamed that it was more suited to the stage. The ending felt flat, because the story was trying to get across the impression that several character arcs were joining together to take on the bad guy, but when the whole fight was confined to a single set-piece, it looked a little mismatched and chaotic. I get that most of the movie was set in the ‘Woods’, but when every set looked the same, we never felt the scale that we should have been feeling. I am not even going to get started on Johnny Depp, because… ugh!
Final Verdict: Into the Woods looks promising at times, but it only hits home during a few scenes, making it hard to love as much as you want to.