Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

By Sati. Tuesday, December 11, 2012 , , , , , , ,
I was certain I will love Beasts of the Southern Wild - it's set in Louisiana, the place I love, it shows so much nature, which I love as well, and its protagonist is a child - as a sensitive person such movies usually move me to the very core. Unfortunately, even though I shed a tear few times during this movie, it didn't make a lasting impression on me. It's unique and interesting, but it doesn't have enough going for it to make me want to see it again or to leave a lasting memory in my mind, lasting mark on my heart.

The film transports us to a very strange and unique place - and though there are elements of fantasy in the film, as we see the events through the little girl's eyes - that place is very real. Hushpuppy lives with her father somewhere in Louisiana, in a place called Bathtub. They are poor, they share their food with their animals but they seem content - they seem used to their ways and they don't complain. It is unclear what happened with Hushpuppy's mother - the only thing that is certain is that she is not there to take of her. Little girl fascinates that she is talking to her and obviously misses her.
The girl's father is hot tempered and though it is clear he loves his daughter and wants to prepare her for harsh life, he is abusive and negligent many times during the movie. But that's the thing - the world we see here is so radically different from the one we live in, that I found myself rationalizing some of the things I saw on screen. In civilized world Hushpuppy's father wouldn't be a good father, but in this place? This cruel, dangerous place? He is doing the best he can. I'm not saying his behaviour is right, but I would argue it is justified.

Soon the storm hits and the father and Hushpuppy try to survive. They built a raft and visit their friends, soon they search to food, plant the vegetables,  form a community that is set on survival. Another thing is that while we now where, we do not know when - there is a lot of talk about melting icecaps so the film may as well be a vision of near future.But none of this is very relevant here, as since it's the story told by a small child, we see her perspective of the world, her understanding and her vivid imagination.
At its core, all of the survival/natural disaster angle aside, the film is a tale of a little girl who tries to overcomes her fears and become stronger. Her imagination creates strange, big creatures that symbolize her fears. She draws things and tries to leave the mark of her existence this way. But she is still a child - there are many powerful moments when we are reminded of that, mainly in the moment when, like any other small child, she recklessly screams hurtful things toward her father.

One of the reminders to how much their world differs from the one we know is the scene where they end up in the shelter - Hushpuppy is wearing a dress that comparing to what she normally wears may be described as fancy and the others are being cared for by doctors. Her father and his friends take her away, because to them living in the wild is natural and this strange world they saw in the shelter is not.

There were certain moments when I felt the film was very exploitative - there were times that all I could feel was being scared for this little girl. There were times when I cried, because she was sad and missed her mother. Beasts of the Southern Wild is an emotionally manipulative film and I felt a bit cheated, because there are several sequences here, thrown in only so that they could mask just how much substance the script for the film lacks - it really seems like there are huge chunks of the story missing, what's worse - important ones.
Fortunately, there are many wonderful things in the movie, mainly performance by Quvenzhané Wallis, who for a girl of such young age, delivers very raw and powerful work. Wallis and her mom admit that they fibbed about Quvenzhané's age, claiming she was at least six years old, as required to audition, when she was only five. According to director Benh Zeitlin, Nazie, as she is called, beat out almost 4,000 other area kids considered for the lead role. Her Hushpuppy is the beating heart of this film, that leads you through this incredible world and her emotions are so honest, it's really easy to be moved just by watching this little girl struggle and fight in order to find her strength.

Dwight Henry, who delivers great work as Hushpuppy's father, is also terrific. I was very impressed when I found out he is not a professional actor. Apparently, he owned the bakery across the street from the space from which the crew was working . Director of the film posted a casting flyer in Dwight's bakery and, after several weeks, invited Dwight over for a read. Two days later, Dwight moved his shop to a larger space, and when the crew went looking for him to ask for a call back, no one could figure out where he went. Two months later, they located him, but he turned down the offer, as he was investing all his time in the new bakery. Finally, every single person involved with the film at that point showed up at his bakery at the same time and told him he had to do the movie. Dwight agreed, as long as they rehearsed with him during his midnight baker's hours.
Though Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of the possible contenders for Best Picture nomination I feel it only deserves one nomination - for best original score. Not a single one of movie's powerful scenes would be as moving as it was if it wasn't for this amazing, heavenly music. It added so much to the film and right after Hans Zimmer's masterful work in The Dark Knight Rises it's my favorite score of 2012.

Another thing worth mentioning is the way the film is shot - there are many hand held camera shots but there are also fantasy scenes and shots of nature, wild and uncompromising, that surrounds Hushpuppy. The film definitely has a climate and you feel as if you were right there, in the middle of things with the characters.It certainly has the power to transport the audience to the world it shows, which doesn't happen all that often in the cinema these days. The film reminded me a lot of two movies I didn't love either - Where the Wild Things Are and Tideland. Beasts of the Southern Wild is better than these, quite possibly better than these two combined, but I wish it moved me more. Who knows, maybe it will enchant some of you more.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
(2012, 93 min)
Plot: Faced with both her hot-tempered father's fading health and melting ice-caps that flood her ramshackle bayou community and unleash ancient aurochs, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.
Director: Benh Zeitlin
Writers: Lucy Alibar (screenplay), Benh Zeitlin (screenplay)
Stars: Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry and Levy Easterly

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44 comments:

  1. Good review Sati. It's a very great-looking and adventurous flick, don't get me wrong, but I just didn't love it like everybody else in the world seems to be. Still, it's an original piece of work that definitely took me into it's setting and area right off the bat.

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    1. Thank you! Yeah, I didn't love it either, really wanted to but I couldn't overlook the flaws in the movie.

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  2. Oh noes! I'm so disappointed that you didn't like it as much as anticipated! I guess my strong bond to this film has a lot to do with the fact that I'm from New Orleans, so it's hard not for me to relate to the notion of "this is our home, we're not leaving" despite them living in a fictional, counter-culture community. A lot of other reviewers found the concept of the movie dumb, and labeled the characters stupid for not evacuating...but we seldom evacuate down here. With the exception of Katrina, we're always used to "riding out the storm" as they say. The score is undoubtedly the best.

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    1. I was disappointed too :/ I really, really wanted to love it and tried hard not to be distracted by the holes in the story, but in the end it didn't sweep me away enough.

      Oh, I had no trouble with the concept of the movie, I'm stunned people call it "dumb" - I thought it was very interesting and quite refreshing. I completely understand the fact this was home to them and I thought the movie established their bond with the place very well.

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  3. Great review! Now I'm torn as to whether I should watch the movie or not.

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    1. Thank you! Oh, you should definitely see the movie, who knows maybe it will end up in your top 5 of the year, it certainly has enough allure in it.

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  4. I didn't enjoy Where The Wild Things Are and Tideland either so still unsure about this. I guess what really compels me to check this out is the fact I know very little about it. I like powerful child performances and with all the awards push Wallis is receiving, it might just be worth it.

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    1. This one was very similar to these two, beautiful, magical but something was missing and at times it was very tiring. She is really amazing here, I wouldn't nominate her myself but she would be in my top 10 actress performances this year.

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  5. I was expecting more of it, although I did find it an impressive debut movie. Didn't know that the father wasn't a professional actor, his performance was good.

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    1. He was really good, I'm a bit surprised about the acclaim him and the movie are getting, but for a debut film I agree it's pretty impressive.

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  6. Shame you didn't like it as much as I did, but you made some really interesting points. Plus, your review beautifully written. Glad you liked Wallis and Henry though!

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    1. Thank you so much! I really enjoyed their work, they were extremely believable and definitely did wonders with the script.

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  7. Great write-up Sati. I really want to see this but like yourself I didn't like Where The Wild Things Are or Tideland. I'll go into this with reservations now. Thanks for the warning.

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    1. Thank you! It's a bit less boring than Wild Things and not as crazy as Tigerlandm but something was missing.

      I think it's the kind of movie that you "feel" more than "watch", so it may be someone's favorite while others, like me, won't be charmed. So who knows, you may love it!

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  8. This quote of yours really captures my feelings: "Hushpuppy is the beating heart of this film, that leads you through this incredible world and her emotions are so honest..."

    This movie really won my heart. It's one of my favorite films for 2012.

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    1. Thank you! Glad you liked it so much, it really lovely to find a film that wins your heart, sadly I have yet to find such a film among 2012 movies :(

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  9. It's a shame you didn't like this movie better! I have yet to see it, but many friends recommended it fiercely (yes, they grit their teeth as they say it).

    I would instinctively think that your expectations were the problem, but the sort of criticisms you raised (specifically, the spare script) aren't the complaints of someone who just didn't get what they wanted.

    I'll let you know when I've watched and reviewed it!

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    1. I think it's one of those movie that some may love despite others seeing flaws in it, it's a very spirited story.

      Whenever I watch a film I always try to love it, it actually takes a lot for me to complain but yeah, when I have an issue with the script as I watch the film I just can't pretend I didn't.

      Please do, I'd love to read your thoughts!

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    2. I will, as soon as I get a chance to watch this pic! Btw, you're actually the subject of my post for tomorrow morning: favorite 2012 post by another blogger. You deserve it!

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    3. Thank you so much for this, yet again, totally made my day! :)

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  10. Lovely review! There are so many intriguing things about this movie; I'm disappointed to hear that you found it to be emotionally manipulative and rather underwhelming. I'll probably watch it eventually, but I'm in no hurry. I love the Dwight Henry story!

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    1. Thank you! There is a thin line between me just being super emotional and weeping and the film using plot devices to manipulate me to do that, but when it happens I know it :)

      It's great isn't it? I really love how everyone involved wanted him in the movie, the film really feels like labor of love, despite its flaws.

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  11. My expectations were probably too high for this. I wasn't blown away with the film, but I still really liked it. Wallis and Henry were excellent, as was the score and cinematography. I think it's a solid film, just a bit overrated.

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    1. Same here! Though to be fair I think it is one of those movies that may be just perfect to some people, the kind of movie that may hit some people emotionally, for example some people hate Young Adult but for me it hit home so I loved it. I think it's the same here.

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  12. I see we agree about this one. It's impressive in some ways but doesn't live up to the hype.

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    1. I agree, some parts just didn't work.

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  13. Visually appealing but not very emotional, sums up my feelings as well!

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    1. Glad you agree! I honestly don't think I'll ever see this one again, it just didn't capture me.

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  14. I was sort of interested in this upon hearing the early buzz. Your review has intrigued me further, as the idea of telling a story through the eyes of someone so very young sounds interesting (and the visual possibilities fascinate me). Doubt I'll see it soon...but I'm looking forward to it.

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    1. The film definitely does a great job at showing the world through Hushpuppy's eyes, it's just that we know as little as she does which made it hard for me to care at times.

      I really hope you will like it more than I did when you get to see it!

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  15. Excellent review! I've heard so many good things about this, but have also read some reviews that weren't overly impressed, such as your own. I still want to check it out, although I'll have to wait for Blu-ray as none of my local cinemas were showing it unfortunately.

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    1. Thank you! It's certainly worth seeing even only for the performances and great atmosphere.

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  16. Good review Sati. I liked the film more than you did but I totally can see where you were coming from in your analysis.

    Hushpuppy did it for me :)

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    1. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the movie!

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  17. I completely agree- wonderful film, with so many strong points, but it didn't give a lasting impression to me, either. My review will be up soon, too!

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    1. Glad you agree, I can't wait to read your review!

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  18. I think I liked the film a bit more than you did, the unique atmosphere won me over. The tone is quite unusual, so not surprising that the film is dividing audiences.

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    1. Weird enough I had no problem with the tone, the way the story was incomplete was my biggest problem here, the pacing was also a bit off.

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  19. Nice review. I had no idea that the guy who played Hushpuppy's dad was not a professional actor and was just the Baker. How cool is that. I learn a lot from your reviews. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you! I always try to find some interesting bits of trivia for my readers :)

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  20. I just saw this film yesterday and I feel what you wrote is a very fair assessment of the movie. Last summer I had heard about three non-blockbuster films that I never got a chance to see - Safety Not Guaranteed, Moonrise Kingdom, and this one. I loved the first and really liked the second, so I was looking forward to seeing Beasts of the Southern Wild. While I didn't dislike it, it didn't connect with me as much as I was anticipating.

    You mentioned the shakycam and quite frankly, I found it excessive. Sure, when the cameraman is on another boat on the water filming there is going to be more motion. But when people are still and on dry land, the only reason for the camera to bounce around as much as it did is either the cameraman is going through drug withdrawal or the director is intentionally shaking the camera a lot more because he figures it makes him an artiste. I had to literally look away a couple times because of the motion.

    And as someone who grew up in a family that didn't have very much money, this film just felt a little too much like an overly romanticized view of poverty from the perspective of a person who's never been hungry a day in their life. This film is hardly the first to do this, though, and it won't be the last.

    Just to end on a more positive note, I completely agree that the two non-professional leads more than held their own and carried the picture on their backs. Overall, I would recommend this film (3 stars out of 5).

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    1. Thank you! I have not seen the first one of those you mentioned, though I am quite fond of Aubrey Plaza so I'll probably see it soon. I really disliked Moonrise Kingdom, found it to be quite empty and forgettable. Same here - it just didn't connect with me, which is a shame cause I was sure I will like Beasts a lot.

      Haha, drug withdrawal - good point :) I saw the film at home and not in cinema, but had I seen it in the movie theater, I'd probably have to look away too.

      I didn't have much problem with this, as it is shown from the perspective of innocent, almost care free child, but you make a good point here.

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    2. If you are interested, here is a link to my recommendation for Safety Not Guaranteed: http://www.tipsfromchip.blogspot.com/2012/11/movie-safety-not-guaranteed-2012.html

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    3. Awesome, will try to see it soon!

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