I was going to call this article “Meryl Streep to Get 500th Oscar Nomination” for “Into the Woods.” What is it really? 10, 20, 30? But she’s so damn good as The Witch in Rob Marshall’s movie adaptation of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s musical that you really have to wonder: What the heck is going on? She’s sung before on film, but not like this. As The Witch she gets some show stoppers, and she handles them with more than her usual panache. She glows.
I felt kind of sorry for the other actresses, each of whom is so good in the “Woods”: Christine Baranski, Tracy Ullmann, Anna Kendrick, Lucy Punch and the horribly underused Tammy Blanchard. They are no slouches believe me.
Every film like has its revelations. In this case, they are Emily Blunt and James Corden as the Baker’s Wife, and the Baker himself. While Meryl will go into supporting for the Oscars, Blunt heads straight into Best Actress with Julianne Moore, Reese Witherspoon, Gugu Mbatha Raw, and maybe Amy Adams. Emily Blunt has never sung in a movie, didn’t know a bit of “Into the Woods” before she got it, and yet, she just shines as the Baker’s put upon but feeling her oats spouse. As even Emily said at the Q&A last night, Joanna Gleason was the superb original on Broadway. Last year we saw Amy Adams kill the part in Central Park. But Blunt, to put it bluntly, really cooks in the role.
James Corden– what can I say? I have no idea why he wants to host a nightly late night talk show here. He’s won a Tony, he was great in “Begin Again” and as Paul Potts. Now he’s the surprise male lead in “Into the Woods.” He and Emily Blunt work wonderfully together. The studio has him as a lead performer for Oscar consideration, but they should reconsider and move him to Supporting. Lead is too full now with about 10 candidates. In supporting, Corden should fit right in with the likes of Ethan Hawke, Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton, Matthew Goode, JK Simmons, and so on.
Kudos also to Billy Magnussen and Chris Pine for hilariously good work, as well as a cameo from Johnny Depp, and the kid actors who hold their own — Daniel Huttlestone especially.
Rob Marshall’s “Chicago” winning Best Picture in 2002 was no accident. He knows his stuff. There was a lot to love about the way he made “Nine,” even if the show was unsympathetic and hard to translate. “Into the Woods” should be a big family hit, an adult, and a possible Oscar nominee itself. It’s the smartest and most entertaining film of this holiday season. You’ll also come out singing.