Funny, absorbing, beautiful and challenging. A masterclass in how to bring great musical theatre to film.
I am aware that I am biased. Potentially I didn’t see this film through an objective woman-of-the-people filmgoer’s lens. I love a good musical and Stephen Sondheim is the MASTER. The darkness that he has brought to musical theatre over his long career has been way ahead of his time, and this movie brings his 1987 show into the 21st century.
Not that the book needed much tweaking – the themes and challenges of the characters are universal and their presentation seems surprisingly modern, helped by the addition of some CGI to make the fairy tale setting that bit more believable.
For those who haven’t seen it on stage or been listening to the album for years, here’s the premise: It’s a mash up of fairy tales –Cinderella, Rapunzel, Jack & The Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood all begin their well-known quests and head into the woods. There they meet a baker and his wife attempting to break a curse laid on them by the wicked witch. Yet this is not your usual fairy story, for the key is in its complications, what happens after ‘happily ever after’…
I won’t tell you any more of the plot, but as someone who is generally a fantasy-sceptic I was amazed at how well the film dragged me into its web. The acting is great – Emily Blunt delivers a smasher as the Baker’s Wife, Anna Kendrick is on her normal barnstorming form and even James Corden is believable and effective as the hapless Baker. This isn’t even mentioning the goddess that is Meryl Streep, the appearance from Johnny Depp and, (my personal favourite song) the unforgettable performance of ‘Agony’ in all its’ camp glory by the two princes (Chris Pine & Billy Magnussen).
There is no dead wood here, no Russell Crowe. The only time where the spell seems to be slightly broken is during some of the spoken word pieces, but I can forgive these episodes as they serve a purpose in bringing the characters back to earth slightly. It takes nothing away from the story and slightly reflects the central message of the show – that we are all flawed in our own ways, and each have our own story to tell. Witches can be good, prince charming could well be a let-down and sometimes when wishes come true we wonder what all of the fuss was about. It’s a cautionary but ultimately optimistic tale.
To the many of you who have pre-booked tickets for this weekend, GET EXCITED. We have a modern classic on our hands.
Thank you very much to Laughing Buddha and Disney for the advance screening tickets – I could get used to this!