Into the Woods has no reason to feel insecure about the kind of film it becomes after the first 100 minutes or so because it’s a perfectly charming musical about a baker and his wife who want nothing more than to have a child. So it’s confusing why a false ending is used, but no surprise how the film buries itself in a deep grave for the next 15-20 minutes afterward until it finally ends.
What it had initially was a happy ending for the baker and his wife at the conclusion of a nice, live-action fairy tale. I sense that isn’t what the writers wanted for the film because they inexplicably turn the film on its head like a bully lifting a kid by his legs because he thinks he has more money than he’s letting on.
For the rest of the time, Into the Woods does everything wrong and it suffers publicly from an embarrassing identity crisis, which makes it feel too long for one. It wants to go in the direction of a vindication story, a noble goal, for the baker (James Corden), whose father was pretty much a coward and thief and the reason why he and his wife can’t have a child. It gets there through a series of events that should belong in a different movie that we don’t want to see.
If they’re being crass, they could blame it all on the baker’s wife (Emily Blunt). Like, maybe they didn’t expect to get such a dynamite performance from the female lead. Maybe they didn’t expect Blunt to be the heart of the film. But the fact is Blunt is completely extraordinary in the absolute best performance of her career, and it’s a shame James Lapine, the film’s writer, went and did what he did.
Blunt is the best thing Into the Woods has going for it, though the star-studden ensemble isn’t short on good performances. Lilla Crawford was an outstanding Little Red Riding Hood. She doesn’t end up on screen enough, but somebody ought to give her a movie all to herself. Anna Kendrick is very good as Cinderella, using an unexpected chemistry with Blunt to her advantage in scenes they share. Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen are hilarious boneheaded princes, delivering the most memorable of the film’s musical numbers, in “Agony.”
But this film picks Corden, far from its best character, as its hero. And for what? From where I’m sitting, these priorities are out of whack. There’s a good film here that should be recognized and a performance by Blunt that should be marveled at, but Into the Woods overlooks itself. From where I’m sitting, there’s no shame in stopping after the first hour and a half. Save yourself the agony.
“Into the Woods”: ★★1/2