Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild Movie Review

An item on my bucket list is to attend a film festival sometime. I’d get to see up and coming film artists showcase their work for the first time in a public domain. I imagine film festivals are really exciting. When a movie is a huge success at a film festival, movie critics will rant and rave about it. Such ranting and raving is how I heard about Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). After seeing it, I have to wonder if these critics saw the same movie I did.
The Bathtub is a small, defiant, bayou island community off the coast of New Orleans, cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee. In The Bathtub is a brave six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) who is on the brink of becoming an orphan.  Hushpuppy makes it through the day with her child-like optimism and imagination. She believes that the world is in balance with the universe. Then a fierce storm changes the way she views things. The tough love exhibited by Hushpuppy’s father, Wink (Dwight Henry), prepares her for a time when he’s no longer able to protect her. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature, as Hushpuppy sees it, flies out of whack; temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt releasing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. With the waters rising, the aurochs coming, and Wink’s health fading, Hushpuppy sets out find her mother and repair the universe.
The best thing about Beasts of the Southern Wild is the art direction. There are lots of really neat shots that really are pretty to see. One of my favorites is captured on the movie poster where the residents of The Bathtub are shooting off fireworks and Hushpuppy is running around free spirited, waving sparklers in each hand. That was just gorgeous.  We primarily see life on the little island which the community lives and once in a while we see drilling rigs and oil refiners on the other side of the levees. They seem so alien and distant from the main setting that they may as well be mysterious ancient ruins. The visual contrast between the oil rigs and the green bayou is really interesting to see.
Cute as Hushpuppy was, I didn’t find her very believable. She’s six years old and has an uncharacteristically expansive comprehension of the universe and her own theory of how it all works. Most six year olds are just beginning to understanding that a world exists beyond their own needs let alone a whole universe. The accomplishments of a six year old involve something like tying their shoe on their own, not repairing the balance of the universe. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with having a childlike paradigm of the world and how it works when you’re a kid. But an understanding of the universe, simplistic and inaccurate as Hushpuppy’s is, suggests a much larger perception of the world than a six-year-old can comprehend. It just didn’t feel very believable to me.
Critics are almost unanimously impressed with the performance of Quvenzhané Wallis. She was five years old when the movie began production, and seven by the time filming was complete. She’s cute, but I didn’t really think she was all that impressive as an actress. Most of her lines are voice over narrations about ecumenical concepts. Other times she simply sits around while adults do the acting. Once in a while she actually does something and gives an acceptable performance, but overall she’s about as expressive as Kristen Stewart until she has to yell or scream at something.
Beasts of the Southern Wild has a lot of interesting ideas that were thematically tossed around, but never seemed to be pulled together into a solid, cohesive whole. I kept wondering what direction the movie would take with the new, interesting concepts. But nothing really came of it. It was rather disappointing.
Beasts of the Southern Wild wasn’t really awful, but it has a lot of amateur independent film clichés. There was lots of shaky camera work; I had to go sit in the back of the theater to avoid motion sickness. Actors stand very still, talking very deliberately, in nicely framed shots; almost like the director is trying to use visual style to cover up the fact that the actors aren’t all that good. Shots of puddles that are held for too long are used as segue between scenes. The drawn-out theme makes me feel like it should be profound, but very clearly is not. For an independent film, this isn’t really an awful movie; I’m just saying it’s not as good as a lot of critics are saying.
With lots of neat visuals and a creative narration from a six-year-old girl’s perspective, Beasts of the Southern Wild is still a rather convoluted independent film with a sub-par child actor. I imagine most hoity-toity movie critics will call it a “tour de force,” which in layman’s terms means it’s too artsy-fartsy for the average movie viewer to enjoy. If you get a chance to see Beasts of the Southern Wild I’d recommend seeing it if you really do not have anything better to do with your time; like I’ve said, it’s not awful. But if you never do get around to seeing it, you won’t be missing out on a significant piece of cinema art.

What’s one of the worst “tour de force” independent films you’ve ever seen? Comment below and tell me why.

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