Friday, January 30, 2015

"Into The Woods": A Fun Family Musical

Now In Theaters

Oscar Nominations

Best Supporting Actress - Meryl Streep
Best Costume Design
Best Production Design

Musicals aren’t really my forte.  Most are adapted from stage productions, and seeing as I have little money or inclination to see stage shows with any sort of frequency, musicals are often lost on me.  Film adaptations of musicals are often measured by critics against their staged counterparts, and from what I’ve read about Into The Woods, critical reactions are somewhat mixed about how well the adaptation holds up.  However, that’s not what I’m here to do.  I’m here to tell you whether or not I thought this was a good film, and, perhaps more pressingly at the time of writing, how I think it fares in its respective Oscar races.  So how does Into The Woods fare?  Pretty damn well, even if I wouldn’t call it one of my favorites of the past year.

To those unfamiliar, this story takes place in a fairy tale world and follows the exploits of a baker and his wife, who, in order to lift a curse placed upon them by a witch, must collect four artifacts from various characters that we as the audience all grew up hearing about: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, and Jack of beanstalk fame.  The plotting relies on the interweaving nature of the stories to explain how each of the events in the classic tales come to pass, which makes for a clever idea and is executed pretty seamlessly.  The constant intersection of the various characters does feel a little artificial at times, but given that the source material relied upon the small space of a stage, the apparent lack of vastness to the titular woods is forgivable.

But the story, as with any musical, is secondary to the songs and performances, and I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed.  I’m no musical expert, but I enjoyed the overlapping harmonies and energy that the songs offered, which even now tempts me to purchase the soundtrack.  Emily Blunt, Anna Kendrick, and James Corden all turn out to be fantastic at the sort of fairy tale whimsy that is required in this sort of story, and none are bad singers to boot.  Even the child performances playing Red and Jack are well executed, which is refreshing to see when so often Disney’s child performers are brought up from the dredges of kid sitcoms.  But of course, the elephant in the room is Meryl Streep, and while I think that she does an admirable job with her performance, I don’t think her character is complex enough or given enough screentime to justify her Best Supporting Actress nomination.  She seems to have been nominated more out of acknowledgment of her pedigree than based on this particular performance, as well suited to the part as she may appear to be.

Even without the Academy’s distinction, though, the film as a whole is just a lot of fun to watch.  The sets and costumes are well designed, the performances are a pleasure, and the story takes a subversive twist at the halfway point that surprised me out of what I thought was a comfortable predictability to the plot, only to turn out an even better product as the result.  As a layman to the world of musical theater, I found this to be a film that was quite entertaining, and that’s about all one could expect or want from it.  Check it out.

What do you think are Meryl Streep’s best roles?  Leave your opinions in the comments below.

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