For months I’ve been looking forward to the new film adaptation of Sweeney Todd. I love Johnny Depp – and I have since way before he was the hottest pirate on the seven seas. I’m a fan of Tim Burton, but I’m not rabid about him like some folks are. On the other hand, I’ve been gaga over Stephen Sondheim for years. His lyrics have been the most clever and creative on Broadway for decades. Yes, I’m a wanna be musical theatre star… Call me, Stephen!!!
So, today I finally took my daughters to the matinee. We settled into the middle of the 6th row, scrunched down in our seats, and prepared to be dazzled. The whole thing – from beginning to end – kept me fascinated! As much as I love Sondheim, I have never seen the stage production version of the film. I knew the story line, I was familiar with some of the lyrics, but the movie just exceeded all expectations. I’ll break it down…
First, even as a fan, I was a bit leery of the idea of Mr. Depp singing, but he actually pulled it off. I don’t think I would have been as impressed if they’d found an actor to play this role who was chosen specifically for his ability to carry a tune. The character had to be the most important part of the equation, and as we all suspected, Depp was able to play a murderous ex-con to the hilt. But he could sing! He isn’t Michael Buble, but he sang with the intensity and the emotion that Sweeney needed. It made it believable. Or at least as believable as it could be… I mean, it’s a musical for pete’s sake. How many people just burst into song while they’re going about their daily business? Okay, how many people other than me? Alan Rickman, another one of my favorite actors, also has a gravelly, made-for-character-roles kind of voice, but again – that was what Judge Turpin needed. His singing voice was perfect. And even as a bad guy he makes my toes curl.
The rest of the cast had beautiful voices. As with Sweeney and Judge Turpin, their singing matched the characters they played. Jamie Campbell Bower (Anthony) took me back to my teenybopper days when pretty boys made me weak in the knees. His vulnerability and his singing of the song “Joanna” make him an instant heartthrob. Jayne Wisener (Joanna) had a soprano that was as sweet as the birds she sang to. Finally, Ed Sanders (Toby) sounded like a sweet boy who had a tough life. And of course Helena Bonham Carter was perfect as the pure-as-the-driven-slush Mrs. Lovett.
The rating of R mystified me a bit. It was listed as being rated R because of “graphic bloody violence”. I admit that it was bloody, and there were plenty of lingering shots on the victims’ necks as they lost that blood… but there was no swearing, there were no sex scenes or disgusting references to bodily fuctions or whatever… I really had no trouble taking my teens to this movie. I would rather they see a beautifully directed, costumed, and written production with a lot of very theatrical violence than some of the sophomoric crudity and sexually explicit things that get the PG-13 nod. But that’s just me.
So the big question: How’d we like Johnny in 1850’s England? Personally, I would like Johnny pretty much anywhere in space and time that a director wanted to put him. But I have to say I do prefer him in these period pieces with some dangerous-looking make-up and moody hair. The costumes by Colleen Atwood were scrumptious. I want to be Mrs. Lovette for halloween. In general, I love the look of turned up collars and cravat scarves. I got all geeky checking out the details of Toby’s jacket (frayed edges, handmade-looking) and Joanna’s going away dress. *sigh* I’m thinking I’m going to try to make the twisted, curly do of Mrs. Lovett popular again…
What can I say in summary? If you don’t like musicals, you won’t like this movie. If you think all people who sing should sound like they could win American Idol, you won’t like this movie. If you appreciate a richly detailed, darkly beautiful morality tale, punctuated by fabulous costumes and sets and performances that will stick to your ribs, spend a couple of hours in a dark theatre with Tim, Stephen and Johnny… you won’t regret it.