Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.
SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (2007)
SWEENEY TODD IS PEOPLE!!!
So I’ll confess right now that I saw a recorded stage production of Sweeney Todd many years ago in a high school drama class, and quite literally all I could recall about it was that a barber kills his customers and Angela Lansbury cooks them into pies. I’ve got to admit, remembering just that one bit of information made this movie… well, boring.
Now hold up, I’m not saying the source material is badly written (though badly adapted may be another discussion). But when a friend tells you the most mind-blowing plot point about Planet of the Apes, The Crying Game, or, you know… Soylent Green… it’s not as interesting any more. If you recommend a movie about a fugitive barber and the desperate lengths he goes to in the name of revenge, sure, I guess I’d like to see what goes down in this thing. But, if you tell me it’s a flick where corpses end up in pies, holy fuck, wow, I’ve gotta watch that! But then I sit through backstory and some boy loves a girl in a window and Borat challenges the Sweenster to a shave-off and goddammit, get to the murder pastries.
Stop chitchatting and slice this fool!
That irritation aside, it’s a fine story that is both helped and hurt by the direction of Tim Burton. Should I be talking about that in the story section? Nope, but this thing reeks of his style and it distracts from the plot way too much. Yes, Sweeney Todd needs to be dark and Gothic, but Burton’s dark and Gothic (particularly his later work) is just too cartoony to see past. The most disturbing of events come across as quaint and all the actors look like they’re just dicking around on Halloween.
If you take your brother trick-or-treating, I’ll buy you a Nine Inch Nails album…
And speaking of the actors…
Johnny Depp is Johnny Depp.
“Bring me that horizon, my hand is a razor, whatever.”
Helena Bonham Carter is Helena Bonham Carter.
“I’m a pasty weirdo in a corset, whatever.”
They bring their usual phoned-in Burton performances, and I think they’re both all wrong for this movie. I mean, if they’d tried, it could have been great, but Sweeney Todd seems too dashing and Mrs. Lovett seems too… quiet? I dunno, there’s just nothing new here. Snore.
Hey, at least Alan Rickman is…
…this… judge… guy?
And then there are a bunch of forgettable youngsters like… oh, fuck it, the kids try their best and the leads don’t give two shits, the only other actors worth mentioning are the ones that are aware of how corny and fake this movie is and wacky up their roles accordingly. That’s why Sacha Baron Cohen’s zany over-the-top performance as rival barber Adolfo Pirelli is a welcome break from the sad colorless sketches in an angsty teen’s notebook that make up the rest of the film.
Whoa, did somebody just bump the brightness knob on the TV?
Lastly, Timothy Spall is perfect as Beadle Bamford, the evil judge’s wheedly bumbler of a sniveling sidekick.
A role only somewhat related to his ratty rat guy from Harry Potter.
THE SONGS AND DANCES:
So I’m going to make a wild guess that I just don’t like Stephen Sondheim, which I’m basing on the fact that Cinemanaut John heard me complain about some of these songs and said, “You probably just don’t like Stephen Sondheim.” Sure, maybe; my idea of a good tune has a catchy hook and some compelling, actually-related-to-the-story lyrics. There’s plenty of that in the words department, but the music… it just feels like it’s all over the place, up the piano and down again. I’d go so far as to call every single song, at least musically, forgettable.
Well, shit, that kinda sums things up. On to the next section?
AGH! Okay, put the blade away, I’ll keep typing.
I’ll just cover the songs that I found lyrically… not irritating. I enjoyed “The Worst Pies in London,” in which Mrs. Lovett laments about her inability to move product in her restaurant, which, now that I think about it, is probably partially related to the fact that she sings a song about how her food is garbage to a potential customer.
Don Draper, she ain’t.
I’m starting to realize all the songs I liked were the grossest ones, because my notes move from a ditty about mashing pussies into pies (tee hee) to peddling pee as a health drink. “Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir” features Sweeney just casually sniffing a bottle and noting that he thinks it’s piss, it seems like piss, it’s piss, don’t drink the piss.
That’s where the rum’s gone.
This argument over the urine-to-water ratio of Pirelli’s magic juice leads to “The Contest,” in which Sweeney and Pirelli compete to see who is truly master of their barbering domain by outshaving each other. Cohen really goes full goof on ridiculous high notes and it’s fairly entertaining and also impressive.
Especially if he—aww, DAMN, I guess he didn’t hit that one high note.
Later on, Sweeney and Judge Turpin have a little mid-shave duet about attractive dames called “Pretty Women,” and it’s a wonderful mix of light and dark themes, sweet voices, and waiting for Sweeney to CUT THAT MOTHERFUCKER.
Slash those pipes!
And then, the song from the trailer: “Epiphany,” in which Sweeney is ready to go a-killin’! It’s definitely Johnny’s big moment, and also when the cinematography is at its most impressive. We sweep from potential shave needer to potential shave needer, with Sweeney swinging his razors and swearing he’ll have his revenge.
On Khan Noonien Singh, apparently.
Oh, holy shit, and then there’s “A Little Priest,” in which Sweens and Lovey discuss the different locals they could dice up for their pies and how they’d taste different depending on their profession (lawyer, marine, grocer). It is fucking perfect and I don’t know why there are any songs after it because they could never top it.
Shameless product placement for Priest Nuggets, but I’ll allow it.
Probably the only other song I remember is “God, That’s Good!” but mostly because everybody starts chowing down on the people pies and little Ed Sanders could sing anything over that and it’d stick in my brain.
Speaking of which, try the brain!
Sadly, there are lots more songs and I did not enjoy them! Songs about birds and the sea and waiting. Okay!
I THINK THIS LINE’S MOSTLY FILLER:
One of the songs I did not enjoy is “Johanna,” an ode to Sweeney’s daughter (Jayne Wisener) sung by a guy who I would have bet good money is Nux from Mad Max: Fury Road but is actually somebody named Jamie Campbell Bower. While most of the lyrics in Sweeney are intentionally creepy, I’m pretty sure this line is supposed to be sort of sentimental…
“I am in the dark beside you, buried sweetly in your yellow hair…”
Sweeney Todd: The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb may not have struck a chord with me because it’s the meeting of two artists that I’m not particularly crazy about: Tim Burton and Stephen Sondheim. I say this not knowing much of the latter’s work, but I sure didn’t like the songs a whole bunch and most of the Tim Burtonisms needed to go. I feel like there’s a fun but disturbing movie I’d like somewhere in here (and we may have just hit a post-Chicago slump of adapting Broadway poorly for no good reason), but as it stands, Sweeney Todd isn’t even the best movie musical I’ve seen featuring cannibalism this year.