BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD

This will be an unpopular response to a film that has become a critical darling, but I’m ambivalent about Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Three things about it I really like:  (1) the performances are wonderful, (2) the production design is spectacular, (3) other visual elements are often lovely.

Three things about it I don’t like:  (1) the narration (which dominates early parts of the film) is far too precocious for this character to be believable, (2) the second half of the film is too choppy, (3) the film really needs a unifying thesis (or something that is arguably a well-reasoned premise).

And, as a parent, I kept thinking, “Get this child out of the bathtub.”  Children of six cannot make informed decisions about the types of things we are supposed to believe (believe the filmmakers lead us there) are magical and right for Hushpuppy.

While watching it, I occasionally thought about a film I did love – another film about but not for children – Where The Wild Thing Are.

I just revisited my previous blog post about Spike Jonze’s adaptation of the beloved Maurice Sendak book.  This is part of what I wrote:

Up until now, Jonze is probably best-known for two collaborations with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the movies Being John Malkovich and Adaptation.  I have to say that I think Adaptation is brilliant – and I don’t use that word very often.

I probably wouldn’t use the word brilliant as an overall description for Where The Wild Things Are, but the film does have moments, mostly small moments, of brilliance.  The scenes before and after Max’s dream journey are flawless, absolutely flawless.   This is a movie about children not so much a movie for children, and the film captures perfectly the exploding emotions the little boy experiences as well as his inability to figure out what to do with those feelings.

It is his interactions among the wild things he encounters during his dream journey that give Max an opportunity to work through some of the things that are bothering him at home and at school.  This is an atypical fantasy sequence involving a child.  The palette in this dream world is filled with earth tones that give Max’s fantastic journey a curious sort of realism.

Arguably, the small moments of brilliance in Beasts of the Southern Wild – if you find them there – are mostly found in Quvenzhané Wallis who plays six-year-old Hushpuppy, found in her face, in her being, in her bearing, and in her voice.

The film doesn’t have to offer me something presented as the Truth (after all, I’m a relativist trading nuanced arguments and in dynamic truths), but it should give me something I can argue is a truth.  Make sense?

Happy to discuss further if anyone wants to engage me.  I liked it…but didn’t love it.

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