Grim Musical OJ’s the Audience, 22 December 2007
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA
Tim Burton’s gleefully macabre adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical smash hit “Sweeney Todd” is the strangest holiday season Oscar bait to come out of Hollywood…well, ever. I’ll be the first to admit I am not a fan of film musicals as they are inherently loud and full of paper-thin characters singing and dancing their way through horribly obvious and clichéd plots. However, every so often one comes along that I thoroughly enjoy, like “Chicago” with its hot-blooded dames committing cold-blooded murder during the roaring ’20’s. Here, bloody revenge is the topic, and Victorian London the setting. The stage was set for a bizarre juxtaposition of seemingly disparate genres: the over-the-top operetta and the over-the-top horror film. On both levels, “Sweeney Todd” delights and horrifies in equal measure.
The film starts awkwardly with foggy CGI set designs and off-key singing covering a clunky exposition about a barber wrongly imprisoned (for, well, I never caught why) and looking for revenge against the judge who drove his wife to suicide (allegedly) and kidnapped his daughter. The film moves slowly until Sacha Baron Cohen (“Borat”) shows up with a gin-swilling moppet in tow (Ed Sanders as Toby, the best singing orphan this side of “Oliver!”) adding a sense of color, humor, and heart to the film’s bleeding core. Once the killings start, the set designs and gore seem to take on a life of their own as Burton paints his vision on screen with the rare wanton abandon of an auteur with final cut.
It would be unfair for me to judge the music and the songs (they were adequately lively in my humble opinion), but the acting was far better than I expected. Johnny Depp was perfectly off-kilter in the lead role. His lack of expression during the “By the Sea” fantasy sequence was priceless. Meanwhile, Helena Bonham Carter performed her third successful evolution as an actress. She was once the darling of the Merchant/Ivory costume drama, then the cult star of “Fight Club”, and now the Cockney-accented comic relief in the darkest movie musical ever made. I thought her facial expressions and timing where especially spot-on. I can’t think of another actress who has such distinct groups of rabid fans. Alan Rickman is effectively creepy in the villain role, while the two young stars playing the whatever-the-heck-his-name-is-pretty-boy and Johanna were appropriately annoying and dewy-eyed.
While the film goes through the requisite motions of an operetta, it succumbs to a fantastically grim and fitting conclusion that ultimately won over the audience. With more dark psychologically rich subtexts and better acting then you come to expect from a film musical, “Sweeney Todd” OJ’s its audience with cartoonish gore and spirited song and dance. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s bloody good fun.
Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database: