14 January 2015

Review: Into the Woods

I wish to have the curse reversed; remove from this piece the blight of one Robert Marshall, muddier of waters, sallower of songs, and extinguisher of comedies.

Into the Woods, Mr. Sondheim's most fecund piece, was not meanly adapted for the screen, but in being put there certainly expended some of its most precious resource, in his music and words. While Mr. Marshall's quavering hand managed to coax in a few fine moments, they composed the minority amidst a series of blanched others. Mr. Depp's one song, "Hello, Little Girl", and the princes' duet, "Agony" — both challenging, comedic, and lusty songs — were stripped of their verve, joke after pun lost on the audience, whose members at least in my company did not laugh there (or in many other places where they should). No, rather, the material felt a bit dull escaping those three actors' lips. Now, partially this fault is the actors'; Mr. Depp especially ought know better than to subdue himself entirely, when the song calls for more than the final burst of want. However, ultimately one must lay this fault at the feet of the director, for it is his and no one's else, the charge of bringing his actors to that point where the story is well told and its meaning well expressed.

Ms. Kendrick alone, revealing her Broadway training, managed to feel her way through the songs with independent intuition — though, it must be said, Ms. Streep's natural talent did guide her cleanly through most of her numbers. A similar appendum may be offered for Mr. Corden, whom this blog has not rightly seen since The History Boys (2006) and who has his own Broadway accolade to his credit.

The heart of the piece, however, beat erratically in the insufficiently wised Ms. Blunt, a striving but ultimately shortfalling Baker's Wife. Though to her credit her performance was better than I had expected it to be, it still ultimately left me wanting that thinness but cleverness of mind and feeling which, say, Tony Award winner Joanna Gleason had breathed into the role in its début; for Ms. Blunt too let jokes fall flat and emotions generally run off track when she wasn't paying well enough attention to the path before her.

Though I confess I was not raving, "Out of the woods! Let me out of the woods!", by film's end I was relieved to find that no more time remained for Mr. Marshall to risk fumbling.

Grade: B/B-, beautiful to see at times but choppy like the sea throughout.

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