I kid Into the Woods because I (do not) love Into the Woods.
First things first: Rob Marshall's new adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's classic stage musical was my introduction to this material. I have no background with the show, nor have I ever seen it acted out before now. I suspect that anyone who knows the show and sees this movie will either love it because they recognize the songs or will dislike it because Marshall's version of the Tony award-winning musical fails to capture what is special about it. I agree with the second part.
If you were to take a drink every time a character says or sings "in the woods" in this movie, you and at least two generations of your offspring would be dead of alcohol poisoning at about the 90 minute mark. I opened the review with a joke about it, but that's because it's completely accurate: the phrase is repeated so many times that it becomes Sideshow Bob stepping on the rakes, eventually inspiring laughter (though not on purpose) because there's just no other way to process it. And while I recognize that this particular criticism is more fairly pointed at the musical by Sondheim and James Lapine, it speaks to one of the major issues with the movie: it is endlessly repetitive. The sets, while impressive, all look the exact same. The characters each wear a single expression through the whole movie. They don't really change at all, either; while the midpoint finds them (spoiler?) getting what they want, it's all casually upturned in the very next scene. On stage, that's solved with an intermission -- we understand that time has passed and the characters can return for Act II as changed people. On film, it contributes to the sense of total sameness that pervades every single scene. Into the Woods is one note being played again and again and again.
|This is the only face she makes|
And then there's Meryl Streep, who is good because she's Meryl Streep. She gets all the BIG moments in the movie and approaches them with the appropriate BIGNESS. She gets heavily made up in two totally different costumes (the second of which makes her look, as my wife pointed out, like a beautiful drag queen and will likely launch a thousand cosplays) and gets a couple of numbers that range from "nearly poignant" to "would-be show-stopping." But like almost everything else in the movie, Marshall doesn't know what to do with her or the performance except get out of the way, effectively robbing it of any weight. Her exit should be the moment at which the film reaches its emotional fever pitch (I could see exactly how it would play on the stage). Instead, it's limp -- shown but not felt, same as the rest.