With the summer being jam-packed with work, adventures and getting out of town, I haven’t exactly been on my game when it comes to movies. Rather I’m still catching up on my intimidating book pile (my goal, finish 10 books by the end of summer. I’m at 6).
So when I got a chance to see filmmakers collective, Court 13’s Beasts of the Southern Wild I was thrilled. The film is full of strange mythos, tears and joy. However in some regards I feel the film was more ambitious than it could handle, and in other regards more opportunist than it needed to be.
The film follows Hushpuppy the strong willed daughter of tough loving dad Wink. The two live in the “Bathtub” a squalid but charming town where friendship and community are strong. When the world beings to fall apart, both physically and metaphorically, Hushpuppy goes on a search for her long lost mother.
So, quite simply, what worked:
- Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy, oh man did they ever strike out with this girl. She was utterly fantastic. We all know how hard it is to cast children in films or television (KILL CARL – Walking Dead), but this lovely young girl seemed articulate and chock-full of emotional vigor.
- The Bathtub as an isolated destination. When we are subjected to the bathtub and not the “Real World” we are somewhat transported to a place of make believe. We ignore the living conditions, the borderline child abuse, and the fact that everyone probably would have died of food poisoning. But when we leave… well more on that below.
- The environmental message. The melting of the ice-caps and the re-birth of the ancient pig-monsters. When faced with the catastrophe of killing the world, living in the bathtub seems like a paradise.
- The emotional growth of Hushpuppy as her father is dying and when he finally kicks the bucket. This was a truly emotional scene. An expected scene, but nonetheless heartbreaking.
- The traveling lighthouse and the floating bar where fishermen go for women, this all fit in with the unique landscape that the Bathtub provided.
- Finally, the fact that many of the actors, including Hushpuppie’s father was amateur and local. And fantastic!
What didn’t work:
- The leaving of the Bathtub. There is a short scene where the Bathtub is evacuated and the residents go to a holding hospital. Suddenly everything you found charming about the Bathtub before seems horrible, and these people? Insane and unbearable. I don’t think this was the intention of the film and I honestly don’t feel as if the scene was in any way necessary. It could easy be omitted from the film and strengthened the mythical aspect the director, Benh Zeitlin, was going for. When you leave the bathtub everything just fell apart.
- Mythical strengthening. It needed more of it. I get what Zeitlin was trying to do, but honestly it fell flat in certain moments. Although I enjoyed the moment when the beasts and Hushpuppy meet face to face it feels more rushed and tacked on than anything else.
- And my personal experience in the theatre: The two women sitting next to me who were laughing at everything… it’s not actually a comedy… sure some parts are funny as in “aw, it’s cute what little kids say” but laughing at everything? Inappropriate!
So as you can see, most of it worked for me. But these faux’s were honestly distracting to the entire narrative than anything else. The film was about resiliency and resistance, but without those fully backing the narrative it’s hard to truly loose yourself in it from start to finish.
Ultimately the entire film circles around this beautiful line, and all the action follows in swing:
The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece… the whole universe will get busted.
A very enjoyable film, and unique in its ambitions. At the very least an exciting new film collective to look out for has emerged shining brightly and optimistically! I look forward to their ambitions in the future.