Sunday, 13 December 2009
REVIEW: Where The Wild Things Are
Before I inflict lavish and due praise on this movie, I feel that I have to first acknowledge its failing. This is not a kid's movie. By any stretch of the imagination. I don't see how any child in the world could fall in love with this movie, because there's such a constant heir of sadness, of loneliness, emotional confusion and even a recurring tone of darkness and despair. To put it tritely, this film was to busy being a great movie to be a kids movie. And some people will hate it for that and whether it's a real flaw in its design, or just an uncompromising commitment to great movie making is debatable. But a great movie it is, whoever it is aimed at. Only a couple of rungs short of a masterpiece, really. Its such a profound, beautiful exploration of childhood, done with so much subtelty and poignancy that I'd be very surprised if I see a better movie come out of the Oscar season. A genuinely great art movie poorly masquerading as a film for the pre-pubescent.
The story which follows ten year old Max (Max Records), who wants nothing more then to run and jump and imagine. But reality keeps getting in the way, with his mom's job, his sister's friends and life in general refusing to indulge his fantasies. So when he's at home one night, and he realizes that his mother's attention which he so desperately wants, is going to spent banging Mark Ruffalo, he ups and loses his shit. Creating a scene before fleeing, sailing seven days and seven nights to where the wild things are (At least I think that's how the line goes). The Wild things in question are quite the creation, they look kind of like cuddly giant bears with horns and crushingly soulful eyes. I sincerely doubt that any animated or animatronic creature in cinematic history has communicated emotion as well as this. Particularly KW, voiced greatly by Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose, who bears a constant expression of incurable existential sadness that it becomes almost a better performance then any real life actor could give. Similarly, James Gandolfini's voice-over work as Carol is quite great, communicating both a childlike innocence and menacing authority with such nuance its a shame people with only think of this guy as Tony Soprano.
The film above all else explores childhood, and doesn't romanticize it like almost every other film to deal with this stage of life, acknowledging both the majesty of enjoyment that innocence allows for, all the running and jumping and seeing everything in nothing, but also the horror of it. The relentless emotional confusion of it. Max doesn't understand why his mother is choosing to spend time with her boyfriend over him, he doesn't understand why people can't just always be happy or why we can't just spend every second enjoying ourselves. The pettiness and rage that he reacts with, and later Carol reacts with as he assumes the role of the child to Max's increasingly responsible figure, is an aspect of children rarely brought to cinema before, at least in this setting of whimsical fantasy. Particularly admirable is how Jonze allows these feelings to make their natural progression to more darker territory later on. Just in the way that almost every time Max just wants to just enjoy himself, reality intervenes in both the real world or the wild thing world. A jubilant game of dirtball is interrupted by a petty argument, spat or overflow of emotion that he or Carol haven't yet figured out how to control. Because their children for all intents and purposes, and their innocence isn't a chosen state of mind, but a stage of experience with as many flaws as perks. Even in your ideal world, a supposed utopia of childlike imagination, reality will still imperfect it. Kids will be kids even if they are anthropomorphic giant bears. Like I said, this is a very thematically rich film.
This is to say nothing of how amazingly this film is both written and directed by Spike Jonze, and while there is little plot, the richness of theme he brings to it more then makes up for it. He is a visually gifted director - this film is shot quite astoundingly - who also draws out great performances from his actors, note the great work 0f ten year old Max Records, who gives a performance far better then his age should allow, but also tells his story with grace and a genuine need to say something. A film that at times exciting, at times moving, insightful, poignant and almost every superlative that its possible for a film to be. Its a thing of wonder both visually and literally. But its not a kids film. Its a near genius exploration of what it means to be a child from an adult perspective for adult consumption, but the fact that the kids got left out in the cold here is almost painfully ironic given the film's story. But that is beside the point, and I'll take a film of this standard in any form.