Monday, December 1, 2008

"Home For Sweeney Todd's Holidays"

Yes. The title of today's posting is a bit odd, but if you're paying attention you should realize that today is Movie Monday. If you're both paying attention AND a movie trivia buff, you may have guessed that the two movies I've seen in the past week are "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" and "Home for the Holidays."

Oddly enough, they have the same general theme: Going back home to where it all started. Of course, they have completely different reasons and results, but I was struck by how that overall factor came into play in both movies. So, on with the reviews...

"Sweeney Todd" is a Tim Burton film. In case you don't know what having Tim Burton in the director's chair means for a movie, he also directed "Beetlejuice," "Edward Scissorhands," "Nightmare Before Christmas," and the most recent version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." So, as if Sondheim's musical wasn't bizarre enough, now we've got a master of the macabre mixing things up. Burton's direction makes for some interesting (and not always winning) scenic choices--but that often happens when a show written for the stage ends up on screen. What bothered me most, though, was his casting of Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs. Lovett. Carter was odd enough to play the roll, but her voice just couldn't carry the role which has been played by theatrical greats like Angela Lansbury and Patti Lupone. On the other hand, although I was all set to not like Johnny Depp in the title role, I found myself... well... not really "liking" him... but enjoying his portrayal as we went along, as I was with the three supporting "kids" in the cast. Good movie to rent if you want to vent some spleen during the Holidays? Yes. Good movie to watch on a "dinner-and-a-movie" datenight? Not if you're having anything with a red sauce.

On the other hand, "Home for the Holidays" is Jodie Foster's bittersweet tale of a grown woman's trip home for Thanksgiving with her family in the mid-90s. I started to write "dysfunctional family"--and a few years ago I may left it in--but I think that, as we all grow up, we find that our families all function just a little dysfunctionally. In "Holidays," we have Holly Hunter flying home for Thanksgiving with her parents (Anne Bancroft and Charles Durning), her button-pushing brother (Robert Downey, Jr.) and her uptight--yet well-meaning--sister (marvellously multi-faceted as played by Cynthia Stevenson). Basically, yes, anything that can go wrong does. There are arguments during dinner. There are old wounds that surface even before the table is set. And as the movie ends we all know that the family will be together again for Christmas, God help them. So... Bring it home with you for the Holidays? Definitely. Watch it with your family around? Only if you promise not to tell your relatives which characters they remind you of.

One last thought about these movies--or, rather, about "Holidays": Each time I watch the movie, I find myself identifying with a different character just a little more. 

** sidenote ** See...? That's why I made sure to mention that the comment is about "Holidays" and not about "Sweeney Todd" because if I said I identified with anyone in "Sweeney Todd" people would never eat my casseroles again. Ever. ** end sidenote **

I'm sure that when I first saw Holly Hunter go home to her family I probably identified most with her. I was living in Baltimore at the time, and going home to South Dakota felt very strange. But I've watched "Holidays" multiple times and have found myself identifying with both of her siblings... and their spouses... over time. And this time I even found myself understanding more about where her parents were coming from. Yeah. That was kinda weird. 

Weird, but good. Seems like that would also sum up these movies.


Laura said...

Here's a question for you, a debate that my husband and I have regularly (yes we are weird people): is Sweeney Todd a dark comedy, i.e., more comedy than not, or a tragicomedy, i.e., more tragic than funny although having funny overtones? I say more tragic than funny, he says more funny.... we've both seen it multiple times. We've never seen the movie.

Robert said...

Laura--That's an interesting point, and I admit that I was thinking about the tragedy/comedy shift while we were watching the movie! I have always found the stage show to be a dark comedy, but I found the movie to lean much more to the tragicomedy. I'm not sure why, but that's how it felt. I'd love to hear what you would say after seeing the movie.

Christopher said...

I'd have to say it's definitely more tragedy than comedy - a tragic love story with some comedy thrown in to lighten it a little. I'd be curious to see what the stage show is like, as I've never seen that.