Friday, December 19, 2014

Movie Review: Into the Woods

Into the Woods is a Disney film of a Stephen Sondheim musical. It intertwines four fairy tales, which probably isn't a great idea. I mean, when you watch Disney's classic "Cinderella," do you sit there hoping Jack and his Beanstalk will show up? Did "Rapunzel" leave you thinking, "Well, that was fun, but it would really have been great if Red Riding Hood had turned up"? Consider your wish granted.

Rather than try to psychoanalyze the characters, the film pretty much just throws them together. We don't get motivations or hidden feelings or any sort of depth: it's pretty much shallow conversations between simple people who haven't previously met. Exchanges run something like this:

RAPUNZEL: Hello little boy! What are you doing in the woods with a cow?

BEANSTALK JACK: I'm taking it to the market to sell. Gosh, you sure have pretty hair.

RAPUNZEL: Thanks. See you!


Roughly 90% of these conversations are about the woods. They're so dangerous, stay on the path, or stay out! Despite the talk, we don't really get the reason, because the woods seem to be full of simple people wandering about idly, resembling more of a dirty Bed Bath & Beyond than an actual forest. If this movie had taken place at the Glendale Galleria, it would have been eight minutes long.

For the first half hour, Meryl Streep and fourteen semi-celebs sing the words "Into the woods!" repeatedly. They don't just etch into your consciousness like the theme from "It's a Small World," They actually replace every message sent in your brain, bloodstream and nervous system. At four a.m. this morning I didn't get woken up by my urge to go to the bathroom: no, it was my penis' turn to solo.

The intro eventually ends, and a hundred intermingled stories start. The mood changes with each: Red Riding Hood is sassy, Cinderella is sincere, Beanstalk Jack is a Joey Lawrence-style idiot complete with bowl haircut. An initial encounter with the latter isn't exactly spine-tingling: he climbs up the beanstalk, climbs back down, and then spends twelve minutes singing about it. I'm not sure why: I mean, whenever I've recounted the story to children they've never asked me to repeat the entire thing but this time with a tune.

This is probably why I don't like musicals: they do stuff that people do in regular films, but then they stop and sing about it afterward. Is that really necessary? I'm pretty sure James Bond films wouldn't be quite as popular if he stopped to recap everything in song.

I drove my Jaguar very fast
with Blofeld hot on my tracks.
I would have had sex with Jill Masterson
but I thought I'd get paint on my slacks.

Cinderella's subplot makes even less sense. The prince's ball now lasts three nights in a row -- so for three nights in a row, she captivates the prince, she runs away, and he chases after her. She loses her shoe on the third night and he takes it throughout the countryside to find out who it fits.

I'm not sure I'm conveying just how stupid this is, so let's make up some details and dialog that the movie leaves out.

[NIGHT ONE] PRINCE: You are so lovely, mysterious maiden. Please, tell me who you are!

CINDERELLA: I cannot! But I've had a wonderful evening, and I must go!

She runs off. The prince chases but a handsome, fit male is no match for a chick in stilettos.

[NIGHT TWO] PRINCE: Thank goodness! I've found you again. This time I will never let you go. Please, dance with me again.

CINDERELLA: Okay. [THEY DANCE] This is like a wonderful dream! [SHE SPRINTS OFF] See ya, buddy!

PRINCE [SHRUGGING]: Goddammit. Not again!

She runs off again. The prince chases, this time even more desperately, but again he can't catch her. He's bereft. True love escaped him once more!

[NIGHT THREE] PRINCE: This is fuckin' amazing. I thought I'd lost you forever, but here you are again! My beloved. Life has regained its meaning and birds will sing again.

CINDERELLA: Yup. Good to see you too. [THEY DANCE, THEN SHE BREAKS OFF AND RUNS] Gots to scoot again, beeyotch!


The movie picks up during her third exit. The prince isn't quite as stupid as I've made him out, because he's covered half of the castle stairs with tar to slow Cinderella down. Sure, it would have been smarter to hire a guard, but these are troubling times in the kingdom, m'lord. Cinderella doesn't see the tar and her shoes get stuck. Oh, damn! Now he'll catch her for sure! She steps out of her shoes and then pulls them out. O...kay. She decides to leave one for the prince as a clue to her identity, and then she sprints off, running carefree through the tar.

Yes, the film definitely explores an alternative side of this fairy tale, because when you read the regular one you don't want to shout, "DOES SHE STICK TO THE FUCKIN' STAIRS OR WHAT?"

This time around we learn that a woman wearing one tar-coated stiletto is faster than our hunky prince. We almost wish the ball would go on for a fourth night, so the prince could lay nails across the exit and she'd step on them and her feet would get all bloody and we could all yell, "SEE IF YOU'RE FASTER THAN THE PRINCE NOW, ASSHOLE!"

Rapunzel is a shock on more of a visceral level. After fourteen people have sung about the glory of her hair, we see it looks like a bungee cord wrapped in a cheap weave. It's literally a matted yellow rope. If I fell into a tar pit and they threw me a lifeline of that shit, I'd be a really pissed-off fossil right now.

The baker is stupid and earnest, his wife is snarky. "This makes no sense!" she notices. "That's crazy!" she notes. She snidely remarks that somebody's wandered in from a different fairy tale. Suddenly we identify the movie's forefathers: we've got the style, though none of the charm, of Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever.

Towards the end you'll be delighted to notice that the observational songs -- classics like, "I Climbed A Beanstalk," "I Saw A Cow In The Woods," and "Man, That's A Really Big Wolf" -- give way to musical platitudes, and your heart races with hope that the end is near. Now all the songs are about hopes and dreams and you half expect a kitten dangling from a branch to sing a ditty called, "Hang In There!" I didn't get the closing song's words exactly but I'm pretty sure it went like this:

Dream a dream or wish a wish,
it is up to you.
But watch out for the dreams you wish;
Sometimes they come true.
If you dream upon a wish,
you get lost in thought.
Dreams and wishes get entwined
and that's one fuckin' knot.

1. You sit there and think, "Hmm. That scene wasn't great."

2. You sit there and think, "This scene was awful."

3. You sit there and think, "This entire movie is a massive piece of shit."

4. You sit there and think, "If I tell everybody Meryl Streep shoots Kim Jong Un in this, will they make it go away?"

5. Six days after you see the film you stop at a local store and buy cilantro. The clerk rings it up as parsley. You clutch your face, drop to your knees and scream, "OHMIGOD!!! IS THERE EVEN A FRAGMENT OF A BRAIN CELL LEFT IN THE WORLD???"

Into the Woods is the Bill Cosby of movies. Judging by the name you assume it'll be great, but even before you get comfortable you're overcome by some odd paralysis and all you can do it stare helplessly while a voice inside your head screams, "MOTHERFUCKER! MOTHERFUCKER!" You're left thinking of the trail this movie has blazed by shoving unrelated junk together. Instead of mashing together four fairy tales, how about one-liners? I mean, if they're funny individually, wouldn't they be hysterical en masse?

PRINCESS: I just flew in from New York.

GIANT: Really? I broke my leg in two places.

PRINCESS: My arms are so tired; is that your wife?

GIANT: Yes: feel free to take her! And maybe stay out of those places.

1 comment:

Yet Another Steve said...

A rare misfire, I think. I haven't seen the movie, but the (filmed) stage play has all the elements you decry, and IMHO it works marvelously. But then I am usually in such a frenzy of religious ecstasy over the glittering wordplay of the lyrics that I too may be operating on my own prejudices.