Displaying the kind of laid back candor that sums up the mumblecore founding member, Joe Swanberg revealed that once you have kids, “life is a clusterfuck.” And so is Digging For Fire. Kinda. A lesser effort in the aftermath of two eruptively sweet victories (Drinking Buddiesand Happy Christmas), Digging for Fire takes on the humps and bumps of marriage and the battle of young parenthood with an enviable cast for any director. Read More
Your enjoyment of Pitch Perfect 2 will be directly correlated to your willingness to endure acapella puns. That is, it’s only acappealing to some. Still with me? Let’s continue. In so much as this Pitch Perfect silliness could be confused with the cloying high school sugar rush that is Glee, the two share poppy musical stylings but are dished up with distinctly different flavors: irritating and irreverent. I’ll let you suss out which is which. Read More
Displaying the kind of laid back candor that sums up the mumblecore founding member, Joe Swanberg revealed that once you have kids, “life is a clusterfuck.” And so is Digging For Fire. Kinda. A lesser effort in the aftermath of two eruptively sweet victories (Drinking Buddiesand Happy Christmas), Digging for Fire takes on the humps and bumps of marriage and the battle of young parenthood with an enviable cast for any director.
Swanberg has never really made anything bad (though mediocre wouldn’t be a huge stretch with this one) but with all the talent gathered, Swanberg’s narrative wanderlust oses focus, leaving Digging for Fire feeling the strain of Swanberg’s scriptless tendencies. According to the director, Digging for Fire had a more complete, “bigger” script than any of his other projects – mostly because he had so much talent involved and needed to schedule like a really Hollywood dog. In true Swanberg fashion, his final treatment was about ten pages. Famous for crafting just the barebones of a story before shooting, the mumblecore man demands his actors to make choices once the camera are rolling to get from an established Point A to an established Point B. All that middle ground is fair game for improvisation.
At times, his distinctive make of cinematic vagrancy allows for some great unscripted scenes – Jake Johnson‘s hindmost digging moment, Chris Messina‘s unscripted pool nudity, Sam Rockwell doing any and every thing, Swanberg’s adorable baby boy doing any and every thing – but also opens the door for some less compelling episodes – Rosemarie DeWitt‘s beachside interlude with Orlando Bloom, Anna Kendrick and Brie Larson‘s casual disppearance from the action, unsatisfying relationship arcs.
Digging For Fire opens with a familiar Swanberg platitude; stressed out adults talk about stressed out adult problems; strong women trying to gain the reins on their less-than-model husband; secret undertones of dreaming about the highlife of the young freewheeler. Tim (Johnson) and Lee (DeWitt) have just arrived at a client of Lee’s to housesit their upper-decker mansion and get a vacation from their less-than-model home. In between bouts of nagging about preschools and taxes, Tim discovers a rusty gun and a human bone buried in the backyard (a story idea culled straight from an odd incident in Johnson’s life.)
When the couple soon after separate for a weekend, each decide to pursue a side of themselves that has seemed to snuff out in the face of marriage. After dumping their kid with Grandma and PopPop (Sam Elliot), Lee meets up with an old friend (Melanie Lynskey) to air out their marital snafus. Obsessed with the mystery of the gun and the rusty bone, Tim calls together a posse of friends old and new to put shovels to dirt over beers and a few lines of cocaine.
Each half of the couple contents with the ghost of their old selves, opening doors that uncover new demons. Problem is, those doors sometimes seem as random as briefcases on Let’s Make a Deal. Many of Swanberg’s characters work in their own right but don’t add enough to the makeup of the final product to legitimize all their erratic appearances. Although Swanberg seems to be dipping his toes in more mature, less jejune waters, he’s able to maintain his very distinctive voice and worldview. If only he could have equally inserted the tangy sharpness and sweet comedy of his last films in this creation by man at crossroads.
Last year, Telltale Games released a video game called “The Wolf Among Us.” The interactive story re-imagined fairy tales of lore – from Snow White to Georgie Porgie – as a community of troubled New Yorkers caught up in a multiple homicide investigation. You play as Bigby Wolf, a detective with a past as coarse as his beard hair, now a man doing his best to pay penance for the huffing and puffing of his past.
Rob Marshall‘s Into the Woods has its own Big, Bad Wolf – Johnny Depp with a crumpled mustache and a rapey solo track. He bays at the moon while singing about how badly he wants to gobble up Red Riding Hood. It’s weird, off-putting and noxious – essential Depp 101. Where Telltale was able to take familiar characters and weave a story around them that benefits from our understanding of their respective fables, Into the Woods relies entirely on mimicking the collective conscious of lore, spoon-feeding back a narrative that’s more anecdotal smorgasbord than anything refined and singular. It’s one big inside joke that’s sure to tickle musical fans pink while leaving those on the other side of the fence howling for respite.
The story starts out in precious sing-song with a baker and his wife wailing their woes of a womb left barren, a pernicious Little Red (Lilla Crawford) embarking to grandma’s with a basket brimming with baked goods, Jack (Daniel Huttlestone) unwittingly off to trade his milky white cow for some magic beans and a spindly witch played by Meryl Streep hemming and hawing about an aged curse and popping in and out of frames in daffy gusts of smoke. Their paths, for one reason or another, have all been pointed into the woods. And so we embark with ballad after ballad, lungs brimming with gusto.
It’s within said woods that The Baker (James Corden) and his Wife (Emily Blunt) must gather a cow as white as milk, hair as yellow as corn and a slipper as gold as…gold? in order to break the curse that Steep’s witch placed on their house many years ago. Many songs follow.
For those turned off by musical numbers, Into the Woods is an auditory onslaught that fails to break from the repertoire of singing, singing and more singing long enough to develop a story beyond the patchwork of colliding fairy tales. Chris Pine steals the show with in-film brother Billy Magnussen in a number called “Agony” but clever moments of tongue-in-cheek nods to the adults in the audience like this are woefully sparse.
The cast is admittedly stellar – Anna Kendrick, Corden, Blunt, Pine and, to a lesser degree, Streep all own their numbers, even if I personally found some of those numbers grating. But such is the nature of the musical. You’re either in it or you aren’t. It’s just not my cup of tea. What I completely fail to understand is any Oscar buzz surrounding the film as the mere idea of Streep with a nomination frustrates me beyond belief (in a year stuffed with excellent, unsung female performances.) She’s played the Academy Darling card too many times recently, earning a nod nearly every time she puts her face to celluoid. The Iron Lady doth protest too much, methinks.