Into the Woods movie posterILoved it!
Loved it! I’d like to say “enough said”, but honestly have more to say. First off, we saw the late show (10:00 p.m.) on Christmas Day. The theater was not packed, but there was a family of 6 with a number of young kids in tow. I was surprised, thinking this was a bit late in the day for little kids. One of the children was developmentally challenged and made a lot of strange noises, which I did my best to ignore. He was sweet and the Dad kept shushing him, but it was a bit distracting. However, I managed not to focus too much on it, which for me was a triumph, because I can be ridiculously noise sensitive. The sound was turned up quite high and during the musical numbers he was drowned out. Why do they make the sound so loud in movie theaters?
Initially I wanted to see the movie mainly because I’d seen Meryl Streep in the previews and it looked like she tore up the scenery. I was not disappointed. She was mad good. Simply a scene chewing, scene stealing wonder. She chewed it up, spit it out, spun around like a tornado, disappeared in a puff of smoke, then reappeared to chew it up and spit it out again! When she was younger I used not to like her in everything she did. I’ve read/heard many people complain that you can see her technique, and felt that way myself. What I’ve noticed as she’s gotten older is the obvious technique-iness has disappeared and she has become an actress who makes the most interesting (and sometimes very subtle) choices while managing not to lose the thread of the character. I believe she is lucky to have worked this long and consistently, because she has truly been given the time to hone her craft.
Her singing was phenomenal as well! I knew she’d studied opera and could sing (have heard her do so in plenty of movies), but what astonished me is her ability to find exactly the right voice (light, deep, strong, meek, whispery, belting) in every moment, yet still keep singing, as well as her very, very good voice (instrument) in its own right. Of course she hasn’t damaged her voice by overusing it, as singing wasn’t her primary vehicle, but to me she sounded like a 30-year old singer at the top of her game, which is effin’ unbelievable since she is 66. Seriously, the singing voice does wear out with age and use. It’s a set of muscles, people! They wear out! I was very impressed with Streep’s singing and in general I tend to be very critical of singers.
The rest of the singing in the movie was quite good, and I was surprised, as movie musicals usually suffer from an “actor first” mentality. The only singer I didn’t care for was the girl who played Little Red Riding Hood. Her voice was extremely nasal and reminded me of “Annie”, and although that might work well in live theater (where the voice must carry), it was very annoying in a smaller, movie-theater venue. I put my fingers over my ears for most of her singing and could hear her quite clearly. The voice was cutting, with not much “roundness”, which equates to pretty (to me). But her acting was good.
Cinderella’s voice was of a similar type (very “pointy” and nasal) but somewhat warmer, although it is a tiny, tiny, very highly placed voice. Sondheim seems to like writing for a very light, high soprano voice. In “Sweeney Todd” the Johanna character has a similar voice. You have to find a woman with the right type of voice to handle such a light, high tessitura. It’s not my favorite voice type, but then it’s not my fach either (the type of repertoire I sing). I prefer a meatier, warmer, more complex sound. However, in an ensemble, it’s desirable to have a mix of voice types, and hers worked, whereas LRRH’s voice just irritated.
Everyone’s acting was good. It seems pointless to go through the entire cast, as this is very much an ensemble movie. I’m a fan of Stephen Sondheim’s musicals, and this one was, to me, very “Sondheimy”. It had a lot of his trademark ensemble numbers, with character’s motifs overlapping other character’s motifs, which all managed to go together to create a gloriously intricate number. There were few solos and I didn’t find the music memorable, didn’t walk out of the theater humming a great melody that stuck in my head, and still can’t really recall anything musically that stood out in my mind. Whereas in “Sweeney Todd”, for instance, I walked out humming “Johanna” and it kept running through my mind for weeks. While I was watching the movie I enjoyed the music, though. The music and plot are so inter-meshed that I felt, in this musical, one doesn’t really stand apart from the other.
I’m not sure why Emily Blunt is being singled out for her work. She was good, don’t get me wrong, but not any better than anyone else in the movie and, as I said, it was such a huge ensemble piece that I don’t see why she has gotten singled out. The one exception is Meryl Streep. If she doesn’t win for this I can’t imagine why. It’s so much fun to see an actor tear it up, go to the edges, come back, find a tiny, little subtle moment, and play every second like a virtuoso. It was a great deal of fun to see her having so much fun!
I loved the idea of overlapping fairy tales and wondered how Sondheim came up with this idea? Or did he? I hadn’t read a thing about the genesis of the “book” part of the musical. As usual, his lyrics are wonderful and go perfectly with his music. I find it hard to envision how he conceived of “Cinderella”, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Rapunzel”, “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “The Baker’s Wife” — putting them all together, overlapping them all, and having the main characters head into the woods where they all meet at various times. Kind of ingenious and very layered. A bit disjointed if you don’t know the fairy tales, I’d think, but of course I did. The movie could be hard to follow if you weren’t familiar with the back story on all the fairy tales.
OK, I just looked it up online – James Lapine wrote the book, and no mention was made of how he thought it up. So Sonheim is a musical genius, but not a plot genius. Whew! Anyway, just a tiny bit of info. I’ll read more about James Lapine another time.
This musical is a dark take on fairy tales, for sure. Not the sunny, “Happily Ever After” version(s), which was fine by me, but the ending was a little depressing, although I understood why. Still, it would have been uplifting to have a happy ending, but then I’d probably have been insulted by that! You can’t please all the people . . .
Tracey Ullman as Jack’s mum was a hoot. Very earthy and something of a child abuser — she kept smacking him in the head! But she was so funny. She usually is, and I enjoyed her earthiness in this role. She is unusually willing to be ugly (physically) if the role calls for it, and it’s refreshing that she is able to let go of her ego and allow herself to portray an unattractive woman. Loved her. But I’m a little afraid of her now — don’t want her smacking me in the head like she did Jack!
Last plug — Johnny Depp as the Wolf was a howl! He is so slyly sensuous and overtly lustful … I could see him eating Red Riding Hood like an especially fine confectionary from a big, lush chocolate box, savoring each bite and making it last. His final pose is memorable. I adored his performance and wish he could be nominated for this cameo. He was a standout. You all probably know I adore Mr. Depp, but I don’t always find him perfect for every role. In this he was, and I’d let his sexy wolf into my house any time!