Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Here are the two biggest complaints I hear: 1) It’s too long. 2) It's too short. (They cut stuff out.)
Several songs from the musical were absent from the movie (notably the reprise of “Agony”) but a Broadway production can last 2 ½ hours or more. And there’s an intermission. Gone are the days that a motion picture features an intermission. (Gone with the wind) So trims had to be made. Composer Stephen Sondheim wrote an original song for the movie and even that got tossed. There goes the Oscar.
The length issue usually stems from the second act suddenly turning very dark. If you’re not on board with that creative choice you’re in for a squirmy forty minutes.
SIDEBAR: In the musical, act one ends with everyone seemingly living happily ever after. Act two spins all that on its ear. When the musical was first tried out in San Diego, people thought the end of the first act was the end of the show. Sondheim himself had to go out to the parking lot every night and tell people to come back, there was more.
Sondheim’s music is intricate and I have to say that for me, personally, there are times when I’m awestruck by his work and other times I want to yell at the stage or screen “Stop trying to be so fucking cute and clever!” And then a song like “No One Is Alone” comes along and he tears my heart out.
In the case of the movie version of INTO THE WOODS, none of the basic complaints bothered me. I knew the story going in, I knew most of the songs going in, so those weren’t concerns.
But I had my own trepidations before seeing the film. I always hate that studios insist movie stars be cast in musicals, even if they’re not as good or as right as the Broadway cast. Clint Eastwood in PAINT YOUR WAGON for godsakes! Russell Crowe in LES MIS? And I saw that Meryl Streep was playing the witch. Of course she was. Hollywood thinks Meryl Streep can just do anything. Who cares if she can sing? But you know what? She can sing. Beautifully. And she found just the right tone of humor and heartbreak. She made every moment work. Damn her. She CAN do anything.
The rest of the cast was equally sparkling. Emily Blunt – wow. Anna Kendrick – give me her over Anne Hathaway. James Corden – what the hell is he doing giving up a movie career that’s about to take off to do a late night talk show on CBS? Chris Pine – a pleasant musical comedy surprise. Tracey Ullman – another one who can do anything. The only sour note for me was Johnny Depp. What happened to that guy? He used to be a great actor. Now he’s become a cartoon. At least Christopher Walken waited until he was old to become a caricature.
But since INTO THE WOODS is set in a fantasy world, the singing felt organic. I bought it. And the fact that I love the songs themselves also helped I’m sure.
I find the storyline brilliant. There is so much underneath the clever narrative about parenting and relationships and abandonment. Witches can be right. Giants can be good.
Rob Marshall, who did an amazing job of adapting CHICAGO for the screen, was the perfect director for this project. And James Lapine, who wrote the libretto did the screenplay. What a concept – letting the writer who understands the material the best write the movie.
So I loved the film. And I recommend it... to people predisposed to love it too.
And more proof that life is real and not a fairy tale: This is a Disney movie and they had some issues with certain story points and songs. Even the great Stephen Sondheim got studio notes.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM