Thursday, January 8, 2015

Into the Words.

On January 2, 2015, I finally saw Into the Woods. If a movie comes out over Christmas, there's a good chance I won't see it for several weeks. Even when I'm practically peeing my pants to see the movie. Even if it's a movie based on my favorite musical. Even if I've read a crapton of things about it in anticipation, and am anxiously alternating between reading spoilers and covering my ears. Even then, a movie that comes out over Christmas will likely have to wait. Holiday travel, you don't do great things to my movie watching.

So. Anyway. I was excited and scared. And I finally saw the movie. And I have lots and lots and lots of feelings. Here they are, in order of how I freaked out, once I got over the nostalgic squeeing over a new interpretation of my favorite words and music. It should be obvious here, but this post contains massive spoilers. All spoilers, all the time. Do Not Read If You Do Not Know This Show And Do Not Want To Know. YE HAVE BEEN WARNED.

  • [summary of text-argument with my friend Elon over the fact that they didn't show the ball and the inside of the Giant's house.] While it would have made for some spectacular cinematography, what happens at the ball is insignificant to the story of Into the Woods. The actual ball doesn't matter as much as Cinderella's reaction to it. (director) Rob Marshall doesn't need to establish her relationship with the prince or the fanciness of the ball - that's the point. We don't need to see them fall in love at first sight - the story takes into account the fact that we all know the story of Cinderella. Sondheim doesn't spoon feed it to us, because he knows we don't need that. Same with the Giant's house. We can imagine. We don't need to see it. I don't disagree that it would have been fun to see, it would have been "more cinematic", as Elon said. But is it integral to the story? Nope. Into the Woods is about what happens after
  • I really missed "No More." It's one of my favorite numbers. Small, simple, but a truly lovely expression of disappointment and loss and growing up, sung between vanished father and abandoned son. I mean, it doesn't make a *ton* of sense without the Mysterious Man (and I appreciated the "No More" instrumental underscoring during the scene where the song should have occurred), but I think they still could have done it with the ghost dad situation. Don't know the song? Listen to it here.
  • Speaking of...I don't know how they would have done the Narrator, but it's one of the reasons I encourage fans of the movie to watch the original (this just watch it just it's amazing). One of the great moments of the stage version is when the Narrator unwittingly ends up in the story, and how the characters deal with what happens after he's gone. I thought the movie did a decent job of portraying the "oh shit, now we're *really* alone" feeling, but it's just so. much. better. the other way.
  • The princes were fantastic. Absolute perfection. "Agony" was a miracle of the cinema, one of the truest examples of why some stage numbers work better on screen. So, so, good. Just brilliantly executed. Chris Pine's prince was on point; I could watch him be the Prince forever. Why did they do away with the "Agony" reprise? It's so damn funny, and it just reinforces the "happy endings aren't just so" narrative in a way that having Rapunzel run away with her prince just doesn't. Both princes are cheating douchebags - not just Cinderella's! Which brings me to...
  • Rapunzel not dying. Sigh. I don't know if this was a Tangled thing, and Disney didn't want to kill off one of their current princesses or something...but come on. The Witch's spiral into rage and madness is so much more powerful when it's triggered by the literal loss of her child. And Rapunzel's descent into insanity is such a great bit of character development, only further enhancing the irrevocable harm her mother has inflicted. Yes, it's hurtful and traumatic for her child to cast her off and run away - but for that to happen and for her to go crazy and then to die? Horrifying. Tragic. Final. That would drive the Witch to dramatic suicide, now that she truly has nothing left but her beauty - the beauty that couldn't salvage her relationship with her daughter, with whom there is now absolutely no chance of reconciliation. 
  • Ok. So, I had read that Sondheim changed some of the lyrics in "On the Steps of the Palace" to make things more clear, to make it more present-moment or something. And many of the you's were changed to I's. But truly, this is one of the things I hated most. For example: "But then what if he knew who I am when I know that I'm not what he thinks that he wants? But then what if I am?" vs "But then when if he knew who you were when you know that you're not what he thinks that he wants? But then what if you are?" Not only is "am" a painful word to hear sung on a sustained note; the fact that she speaks in the third person throughout the song lends the number a sort of doublespeak. It creates tongue twisters and a sense of confusion. Haven't seen the original? Click here. Movie version here for comparison. I did enjoy the freeze-frame visuals in this number though...seeing it take place in present time, with the beauty of the sparkles frozen all around was ethereal and beautiful and a change I wholly support.
  • Johnny Depp was an unnecessary hot mess. The candy in his jacket was overkill. His zoot suit and his growly whisper were more sexual and pedophiliac than necessary. He was one of the first actors announced for the production, and I get that they wanted a big-name draw, but I don't think they needed him. In the original, the wolf is creepy and just a tad gross-sexual, but mostly you just get the impression that he wants to eat Red Riding Hood. Because he's a wolf. Not because he's a pedophile. It's creepy because she's a child and he's an adult, but I always took the number to be about his sexualization of eating. He's getting turned on by the thought of his meal (both granny and girl), and the thing that creeps us out is that he's doing this seductive little dance number with a child. With Depp's interpretation, I thought he was trying to sleep with her. Which was just over the top. And the key change was gross. 
  • And speaking of RRH and the Wolf, I could have done without that odd "being swallowed by the wolf" sequence. The first shadow puppet made me think of the beautifully-animated Harry Potter Tale of Three Brothers sequence, but then it turned into this weird Alice in Wonderland, vaginal, Magic Schoolbus atrocity. Very strange.
  • I thought the tempo of "Your Fault" was too slow - maybe they wanted the audience to make the words out better? Might have been a combination of the tempo and the staging (which I thought was weird), but the number felt more like "we. are. singing. this. rhythmically." than "we are freaked out and this is frantic and passionate."
  • The flashbacks at the beginning, during the "Witch's Rap" took away from the rhythm of the song in a way I didn't appreciate. I didn't think we needed the flashbacks to tell the story, and the pauses required to show the, interrupted some of the most comedic moments (especially the flow from "your father cried, and your mother died" to "and well that's another story, nevermind, anyway". It's such a great moment when it's timed right, and this just wasn't. 
  • What the hell was with the "blue moon" thing? That threw me off.
  • Meryl had big shoes to fill, but I thought her portrayal of the Witch was dynamic and powerful. I mean, it's Meryl. Duh. Really, Johnny Depp was the only one I didn't like out of the bunch. And I'm usually so fond of him! Alas.
  • I loved the woods - the scenery was gorgeous. I love that they built a forest so massive that actors got lost on the soundstage. I love that they used real trees. I love how the forest changed as the movie changed. I loved how they filmed in a real castle, and a real dilapidated barn, and how beautifully they incorporated the scenery into the story. The woods was a character.
So there you go. My word vomit. I still have a lot of feelings and I could talk about Into the Woods for days (already have). It's an important piece of theatre, for many reasons, very well-articulated in this New Yorker piece. I love that Sondheim's Cinderella chooses to leave the ball for her abusive household, that she chooses to leave her slipper for the Prince to find, that she's torn between choices, and that she's able to acknowledge that her choice doesn't have to be her final one. But it's her choice. I love that the characters get their Happy Ever After - until they don't. This show is about parents and children and a community coming together, and loss and growing up, and reconciling our pasts with our futures, and the choices we make and how we deal with the lives we've chosen and the pain we haven't. It's an important story. And Emily Blunt was very eloquent about why we shouldn't try to protect our children from everything. Kids know things. Life isn't perfect. Happy endings aren't always. 

If you haven't seen this version, I highly recommend it. And here's a fun little interview with Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim, and Rob Marshall from the LA Times that you might enjoy.

What did you think of the movie? Let's talk about it. Now. Obsessively.


  1. Brilliant write-up! You definitely captured all my feedback and then some. I didn't remember the stage production that well when I saw the movie (I was more excited than scared), so I was only retro-actively disappointed when I watched the original cast again. Now I want to go see the movie again to be disappointed in person. :)

    The entire Repunzel plot is my biggest complaint; her original end is both hilarious and tragic, and I love your analysis of how it impacts the Witch's plot line. Such a big fat bummer. I almost equally miss the Act 2 prologue and Agony Reprise. That's when you really get the sense that there's still more wanting after happily ever after. The movie doesn't bring that message to life much.

    I was stoked overall on the cast. I thought the singing was terrific. I was most worried about Meryl Streep because I thought she was pretty meh in Mama Mia, but 2 thumbs up on improved singing chops. I loved loved loved loved love the Agony scene as well. Johnny Depp didn't bother me at all. He didn't wow me either; I was perfectly neutral on him.

    Aside from my frustrations with the plot changes, I love the adaptation. The film takes wonderful advantage of its medium in terms of intimate acting and cinematography, so combined with the beautiful singing, I'm still itching to see it again.

  2. Yeah, I missed the Act 1 Finale and Act 2 Prologue a bit - I was trying to convince my moviegoing friends of the merits of the before/after words of wisdom ("No knot unties itself / Every knot was once straight rope", etc) but it was hard to convey just through my explanations :)

  3. Very thorough response, Melinda! :) I agree with your point about the forehead! I thought it was a little bit of an odd choice (and the Depp costume overall, eesh). I'm so glad you took your nieces to see it - I don't think 7 is too young, and she proves it! (yeah yeah every kid is different blah blah blah) Kids know things, man.

  4. Haha I see how that would be hard to explain. I love all the aphorisms.

    Regarding the wolf costume- I just have to point out (Ryan noticed first) that the wolf in the PBS version has no pants and is anatomically correct... Equally creepy IMHO. :)

  5. My thoughts exactly on Chris Pine!

    Re Les Mis, I think Anne Hathaway is actually a legit singer, but good lord Russel Crowe was dreadful. Stars is my favorite song and he butchered it. I'm glad I saw it once but it's one of the few movie musicals I have no interest in seeing again.

  6. Yeah, I saw Les Mis in bits and pieces on TV, and it was almost unbearable.

  7. Aphorisms. Thank you. I couldn't remember what the word was for those :)

    And yeah...I dunno, somehow the pantsless penis was less creepy to me, maybe because the acting was less creepy?

  8. Where to begin...I am amazed and impressed with your review and writing. I am thinking that Mama would have loved this! I am also thinking that you could have a serious career, or side-career as a movie, or musical reviewer. I agreed with so many of your points, especially the Wolf and RRH. I also missed the narrator and that aspect of the story. I really missed the father/son piece too. I loved the Woods as a character and the princes singing while standing in the water. That would be hard to do on stage so it was nice to have that addition. The PBS version is still my favorite and of course the stage versions just envelop me in the Sondheim world. Oh to be able to create such wonderful lyrics! I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review!