Friday, December 26, 2014

Film review: "Into the Woods" (2014)

At long last, Into the Woods opened nationwide yesterday and I was fortunate to catch a 9:15 showing last night.  Joe has had the original Broadway recording committed to memory for fifteen years, and he was nervous going in, hoping not to be disappointed by this adaptation.  I wasn't too anxious, as I knew it was getting positive reviews and figured it couldn't be terrible.  Regardless, I was happy when Joe, our friend Scooter and I finally arrived at our seats in the packed theater.

I've been posting so much about this film in the past year that I'm not going to go crazy describing the intricate plot.  For the most part, it remained very faithful to the original stage production, with necessary omissions to keep the film's running time around two hours.  The story is narrated by The Baker, and follows the actions of famous fairy tale characters in their intertwined quest to fulfill their "wishes."  But unlike most fairy tales, after these characters ultimately get what they want, it's not necessarily 'happily ever after'.

Meryl of course plays the Witch, who places a curse on the Baker (James Corden) and his wife (Emily Blunt), as retribution for the Baker's father having stolen from the Witch's garden many years earlier.  The Witch's mother curses the Witch in turn for having lost the most prized item in the garden, magic beans, and transforms her from a beautiful woman into an old hag.  If the Witch can make a potion out of four items: 1) a white cow, 2) a golden slipper, 3) yellow hair and 4) a red cape, she will regain her beauty and reverse the curse on the Baker and his wife, allowing for the couple to conceive a child.  I've already posted this video before, but I feel it's the best scene of Meryl from the film, so take another look.  Her song begins at 0:59.

So, after a lot of fun chasing their items and dreams, life appears good in the "kingdom," until a giant threatens everyone's safety.  The setting becomes more dark and somber as sacrifices are made, lives are lost and lessons are learned.  I've rationalized that my laziness in describing the plot works as a good incentive to check out the film for yourself!  Although if you've bothered to look at this site you're probably already planning on it.

Of course Meryl is fantastic in her role.  Great combination of interweaving her acting choices with the tricky music that the wonderful Stephen Sondheim has provided.  I had already seen "Stay with Me" a number of times, but I was particularly pleased with her rendition of "Last Midnight," as it sort of helped sum up the crux of this arduous adventure each character had endured.

Emily Blunt was a treat, as was Anna Kendrick as Cinderella.  Both of their big solo numbers were high points for me.  As expected the audience favorite was Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen's duet "Agony," playfully performed in and around a river.  That Billy can really fill out a pair of leather pants nicely.

I mentioned to Scooter that if I weren't familiar with the story that the first half may have been a bit difficult to decipher, as Sondheim's lyrics are very detailed and fast-paced at times. But I thought some of the choices Rob Marshall made in the film helped make things a bit more clear, particularly the back story of the Witch and Baker's father, which was a bit fuzzy to me when originally seeing the stage production on Netflix.

As Meryl has said, Into the Woods is "a musical with a brain."  It provides a good opportunity for us viewers to reflect on our own motivations, how we choose our own morality, and what we're willing to compromise to get what we want.  Having only seen the film once and about 13 hours ago, there's likely a lot of processing to still do, and of course I'll see it again.  Maybe I'd have different things to say when I do, but until then, just go see it!

At the time of this post, Into the Woods came in second behind Unbroken in the Christmas Day box office with an estimated $15 million (Unbroken around $15.6M).  Considering Woods was shown on nearly 700 fewer screens, I'd say that's a damn good start to a long opening weekend.


  1. I saw the movie too and overall I was delighted with Meryl's singing of course. I found Anna Kendrick's singing ability was above and beyond what I expected ( not that this' not the first time she sings in movies) . I was slightly a bit underwheled by the time given for Meryl's appearence in the movie although she is in a supporting role ( maybe because I only wanted to see her again and agian) . But I think she could have been appeared longer for her scenes. On the other hand Emily Blunt's character didn't really convince me as a lead although she is fantastic. Last thing I had to say is ( I could be wrong ) the dark color saturation of the movie...if it wasn't too dark sometimes we could've seen the actors' facial expreesions and movements better given that all of them gave great acting. Overall I really enjoyed it and will go see it again.

  2. Loved it! Already want to go see it again...meryl rocked!