Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sweeney! SWEENEY!

One of the perks of having a father-in-law who lives locally? Sometimes you can get taken to dinner 'n' a movie. This is exciting under normal circumstances, but when "movie" = "SWEENEY TODD," something you're totally desperate to see, it's beyond thrilling.

I didn't realize at first that he agreed to take Mr. Ben and me to the movie the same way he agreed to take us to -- I shudder to think of this now -- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a far less successful adaptation of a classic text. Luckily, he loved it. Does it even need be said that Mr. Ben and I did too? This was Tim Burton at his most grotesque, let loose on fantastic material. At times (the "By the Sea" dream sequence, where Mrs. Lovett fantasizes about how she & her homicidal lover could have a bourgeois life together, for example) Burton's macabre vision actually improves on the original.

Helena Bonham Carter has a range of about five notes, but she manages to put her own spin on a role I've now seen inhabited by extremely different actresses (Angela Lansbury, Christine Baranski, and Patti LuPone -- what could you imagine they would have in common?). ** SPOILER ALERT ** She makes the foolhardy love that Mrs. Lovett has for Sweeney moving rather than merely pathetic, and I loved her duet with Toby, "Not While I'm Around." I mean, talk about layered subtext. Little Toby is singing, thinking, "I finally have a home! This woman rescued me and I can't wait til I can rescue her in turn to communicate the depth of my affections!" and the mother figure is singing, thinking, "Oh, shit, I now have to kill this boy."

Part of the twisted charm of this show is that Sondheim wrote strikingly beautiful love songs for it and then put them in the most upsetting possible context. How would you like to sing an ode to "Pretty Women" with the man who had you jailed so he could rape your wife?

HBC and Johnny Depp as Sweeney are both made up to look like zombies (sexy zombies) only partially inhabiting the colorless world of Victorian London. In that respect, they match, and they feel right as a couple. Depp also has a surprisingly good voice, or good for the role anyway. This is true of the other cast members too. They make it work.

Mr. Ben and I realized that the cast is peopled with Slytherins: HBC, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spell (the man who plays the Beadle here and Peter Pettigrew there). This inevitably made me wonder how the Harry Potter movies would be as interpreted by Tim Burton. Oh, the things of which we can only dream ... But in fairness, Burton is a post-modernist; Sweeney is a pomo classic; HP is not. Burton doesn't seem to be at his best dealing with non-pomo material, as evidenced by virtually everything he's done since Nightmare Before Christmas.

Anyway. Sweeney left me weak in the knees, as the kids say, and I feel prepared to take on the movie that is both supposed to be excellent in its own right AND an excellent summation of the films of 2007: There Will Be Blood.

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