Beasts of the Southern Wild Reviews
Good Film! You have never seen anything quite like "Beasts of the Southern Wild". It is a film that will have you thinking about the love between a father and a daughter, about appreciating what you have in life and our ability to adapt to whatever comes at us. Quvenzhanť Wallis is certain to beat Anna Paquin and Tatum O'Neal out as the youngest best actress nominee in history. Best original Screenplay is also almost a certainty. Go in with an open mind and enjoy this unique film that plays almost like a documentary and yet is full of fantasy elements as well. If I have one quibble with the film it is the hand-held camera technique that at least in the early scenes is particularly annoying. It usually takes so much from my enjoyment of the film. I get it though, it gives it a more realistic feel and in this film it may have added to the overall experience. Still bugs me though.
Hushpuppy, an intrepid six-year-old girl, lives with her father, Wink, in the Bathtub, a southern Delta community at the edge of the world. Wink's tough love prepares her for the unraveling of the universe; for a time when he's no longer there to protect her. When Wink contracts a mysterious illness, nature flies out of whack, temperatures rise, and the ice caps melt, unleashing an army of prehistoric creatures called aurochs. With the waters rising, the aurochs coming, and Wink's health fading, Hushpuppy goes in search of her lost mother.
Structurally, Beasts of the Southern Wild has an exposition that lasts far too long, as most of the first hour depicts the personality of the community. Perhaps this is director Benh Zeitlin's primary focus - a character study in which the place is the character - but I found myself waiting for the real story to begin for quite some time. When the central conflict between Hughpuppy and her father and the community and the authorities finally comes to the fore, the film was compelling, but it takes some time to get there.
Quvenzhane Wallis, the youngest actress ever to be nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award, has about three facial expressions, defiantly angry, hurt/sad, and innocently searching. It's surprising that one can ride such a limited emotional palette to the red carpet, but I can see why some people found her portrayal of Hushpuppy to be an example of purity and innocence even though I wasn't drawn in by it. Dwight Henry, another non-actor, gives an even better performance, but I wish the script had allowed a deeper understanding of what motivates his character's mood swings; he's at turns abusive and loving, and there's little reason for his behavior.
Overall, this is a good film, but going into it with expectations and hope that it would unseat Les Miz, which I didn't like that much, as the best film of the year, I was a little disappointed.
Based on the one-act play "Juicy and Delicious" by Lucy Alibar, this tells the tale of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhan√© Wallis) a philosophical little girl who lives in a rundown Louisiana town called "The Bathtub". It's a bayou steeped in poverty, yet brings a certain freedom to the villagers. Their freedom is compromised though, when a storm floods the entire area and kills the livestock, forcing the community to flee their homes in search of pastures new.
As we are introduced to our young protagonist Hushpuppy, we see her building a nest for a bird and before long we witness her holding small chicks to her ear to hear their heartbeat. In her own words "Strong animals know when your hearts are weak." This is a child that's completely in touch with nature. It's this very understanding and connection with nature that makes her such a sweet and appealing character and one that's a real pleasure to share her journey with. That journey takes shape in her struggle for survival and a sense of belonging, as her home is destroyed in a storm, leading her on her life-affirming travels that address the nature of family, community and the refusal to be defeated or succumb to the norm. This is a film about culture and the automatic assumption that those who live a different lifestyle (even impoverished) need to be helped or changed into a mainstream or industrialised way of living. Ultimately though, it's a right-of-passage story about bravery and survival and an allegory for climate change.
It's strikingly shot throughout with the camera rarely staying still, adding that all important, stark sense of realism, required for the material. This is a film that's filmed from a child's eye view and young Quvenzhan√© Wallis (who was only 5 years old at the time of filming) is absolutely outstanding in the lead role. This young, untrained, actress should not be overlooked when the awards are being dished out. Fine support also comes from Dwight Henry as her defiant, stoic and seemingly harsh father Wink. To think that these two performers had never actually acted before is astonishing. They both deliver some of the best work all year. There are also shades of director Terrence Malick ("The Tree Of Life") and his fascination with flora and fauna and it also adopts his scrutiny of such things. Quite simply, this is a stunning debut from director Benh Zeitlin who's not afraid to infuse his story with surreal and highly effective visual moments of mythical wild aurochs who pursue Hushpuppy on her travels. It manages that rare ability to balance fantasy and reality and does so with such poetic flair. There was a moment in the film where I thought it was losing it's way and rushing towards it's conclusion but this was short-lived; it soon got back on track and finished with absolute aplomb.
Throughout the soulful journey, we get to know and love Hushpuppy and in her moment of self-assurance she informs us "In a million years, when kids go to school, they gonna know: Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub"... How could we ever forget?
Heartwarming, uplifting and not without it's moments of pathos. This is a film of purity and truth and one of the years very best.