Into the Woods

♫ This Is Bad, Please Help 

Starring: Meryl Streep, Chris Pine

Review written by Robert D. Patrick

It’s a grisly business to adapt a musical to screen, there is no doubt, particularly when the source material is beloved. Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods shoehorns a myriad of fairy tale characters into an allegoric hornet’s nest. Culled from various stories, everything from Little Red Riding Hood to Jack and the Beanstock get mashed up like a Girl Talk song. Perforated with levity, Into the Woods crackles and aches with both brooding atmosphere and blushing gaiety. This sort of project gives nervous leg syndrome to affluent and established actors. Waiting with bated breath, iconic players such as Meryl Streep emerge from their gilded palaces to snatch up parts in these opulent productions. Director Rob Marshall directs this falsetto snorefest with the kind of somber vacuity that one would expect from a guy who brought the untenable Nine to life.

For it’s impressive budget, Into the Woods still looks like it was filmed on derelict Maleficent sets, because everything bares the aforementioned movie’s style and color. Marshall’s world revolves around pulsing shadows and precocious mewls of young actors singing, shrilly, as they gallop across fallen leaves. Lilla Crawford’s rendition of Little Red Riding Hood is manic and piercing. Meanwhile, Johnny Depp shows up, for only a few moments, dressed like Salvador Dali wearing a 1970s pimp suit. The actor strums his fingers across trees, opens his eyes wider than a giant squid, and seethes in a baritone hum. For an actor that’s basically played nothing but a crayon in the past decade, this is within Depp’s wheelhouse. Chris Pine relieves Depp, about an hour in, and proceeds to enunciate “woods” as “whooooooodes.”

Meryl Streep glides and skulks, leaps and crawls. The thespian’s makeup, looking like something out of Bette Midler’s Hocus Pocus, must have been drawn on by Helena Bonham Carter. Without having too much vitroil, Streep’s strained pirouette is enough to exhaust the entire audience. It’s a distracting charade of CGI and conceit that has the combustability of a Molotov cocktail.

Aside from coming across as a holiday special of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, Into the Woods is a moribund, colorless, and bizarrely boring entry into Streep’s regularly electric ouevre. Marshall’s absence of style and conviction makes him seem like a student that’s half interested in his group project.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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