The only standing ovation at any SAG screening I’ve gone to this year is for Julianne Moore in Still Alice. While there was a prolonged applause for Anna Kendrick and Emily Blunt after the screening of Into the Woods, it was in the “Like But not Love” category.

Like But not Love

“Like But Not Love” would be “Job Done” for anything else. But not for Into the Woods.

That comes as a huge disappointment to fans who’ve waited so long for the Stephen Sondheim musical to come to the screen. Years in development, Rob Marshall finally made a movie out of it, but the disappointment is that it’s a Rob Marshall movie. The director is great with flashiness and pizzazz, but Into the Woods is about the underlying truth of desires and the frightening outcome to acting upon them. For a property that needs to be grounded in emotion, Marshall seems to have cursed the emotion out of the movie.

The actors and the musical deserve better. Marshall seems enamored with Chris Pine, amping up the Prince Charming role. The actor delivers in probably the most surprising performance of the movie, if not the season. He’s quite good, and the director shows him off handily. But it’s at the expense of the ensemble. In Charming, Marshall has put all his satire largesse such that he undercuts the humor in other characters. For a Stephen Sondheim musical, that’s pretty much homicide. The comedy arising from The Baker’s Wife, The Wicked Witch, Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella have chalk outlines on the sidewalk. For Emily Blunt, Meryl Streep, Lilla Crawford, and Anna Kendrick, that’s a shame. Each has their moments but individually and collectively, the cast has a hard time climbing out of a woods that doesn’t sing with heart throughout.

Seeing a Forest

At times the production design is stunning, but there’s a detachment to which it’s presented. It’s not inventive as Alice in Wonderland; not as immersive as Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardobe. The use of light and shadows doesn’t provoke interest such as in Maleficent. But Into the Woods needs to drop us into their world and as we fall, say, “Ah-ah, not so fast. Don’t believe everything you see.”

“Like” will beget a lot of money for the movie. Sondheim will survive, people will exit the theater humming the songs, and though the movie will leave many longing for the PBS version, it will allow more to become familiar with the brilliance of the musical. Unfortunately, the movie is not an experience the way Les Miserables or even Marshall’s other film, Chicago was. He’s given charge to beloved properties but can’t emerge from his Wisconsin remoteness to find the heart.

Marshall is the exact opposite of Sondheim who is concerned less with sounding pretty than imbuing notes with meaning. That incongruence hits a sour note.

Thing is, I like musicals but am not a musical theater geek. Think how strong their feelings would be.

Diversity Factor: I guess fairy tales are all-white. Unusual for Disney these days. I guess a musical by a gay white male made into a movie by a gay white male director was enough. I guess they’re saying, “If you want diversity, go see Big Hero 6. It offsets the blandness of Into the Woods.” Just casting blandness however –the movie’s overall blandness can’t be repaired.

 

–Ken Choy

NOTE: No one at SAG Screenings is saying we can’t write about the movies. I’ve noticed that besides Deadline’s glowing rave of a supposedly non- ‘review,’ posts about the movie that are review-like seem to have disappeared.

Deadline refers to an embargo which I only found out about via the deadline article. SAG actors are not all just dumb actors. I also am a journalist. I can’t tell that side of me to stay home especially if no one is asking him to.
Unless someone makes it clear to me that I can’t write about it (like at the Interstellar screening and not divulging plot details), I’m going to write.

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