Monday, February 11, 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild [A Fat Jesus Movie Review]

This is going to be the first of four movies (all Best Picture of the Year nominees), and then the five animated shorts (all of the Best Animated Shorts nominees), that I'll be doing reviews on this week. As most of us know, next Sunday, the 24th, is the 85th Annual Academy Awards. These four movies I'm doing this week, including this one, Beasts of the Southern Wild, are the last four best picture nods I had not seen yet.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of those indie type movies you don't hear a lot about until a few people see it and praise it. Or it gets nominated for best picture at the Oscars. Which is kinda sad since I had heard both good and bad opinions on this before the Oscar nods were even announced. While a talented cast needs some big name players, it's nice seeing talent I've never seen before act well in a movie like this. There are no huge name stars and the two leads are a five year old girl and a man who owned a successful bakery. I think we'll soon see if baking now becomes a part time job, as this movie is one you shouldn't sleep on.

Beasts of the Southern Wild follows the story of  Hushpuppy and Wink (Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry), a five year old girl and her hot-headed father. They live in a Louisiana area in the bayou called "The Bathtub". It's cut off from the mainland by a levee system. They live happily in this highly unorthodox community and believe that life is going well for them. The children in the town are being taught about Aurochs by their teacher Miss Bathsheba (Gina Montana) in school. Meanwhile a massive storm starts approaching The Bathtub and a lot of the population leaves. But a few dedicated habitats (including Hushpuppy and Wink) decide to ride out the storm. With Hushpuppy accidentally burning her house down, as well as seeing her dad suffer a heart attack, they are forced to ride out the storm at Wink's home. The two survive the night, and the storm, and begin to look for people in the town still the next morning. Having found a group of survivors besides themselves, Hushpuppy, Wink and the rest decide to rebuild this almost mythical place called, The Bathtub.

First off, this is one of the most bizarre movies I think I've ever seen. It's fantasy, drama and coming of age all rolled into one package that I'd never quite seen before. When I first started delving into research on this, I found out there's a book from the 1970s called "Beasts of the Southern Wild and Other Stories". Then it became quickly apparent that the movie and book aren't related. Well, awesome. Why awesome you ask? Because this makes this story and plot fantastic. Like nothing ever done before. An outcast area in the bayou with it's own population, culture, traditions all living right under our noses is an awesome concept to me. The plot of this tight-knit group of people going through devastation, only to decide to rebuild is a cool, feel good, story to tell. Everything is highly original and that really did appeal to me. Also, Hushpuppy and Wink are awesome characters. There's a few townspeople and other people introduced, but it's almost irrelevant due to the writing for the duo. Wink as a ailing father trying to pass on life lessons to his five year old daughter? Just a cool concept. Their character development is great, since they're the only two we need to see. Once Hushpuppy's character gets in stride in the movie, its cool to watch. 

The acting was good I'd say and get's by due to a lot of narration, by Quvenzhané Wallis, and then it's more taken over by Dwight Henry when need be. I believe this was filmed when Quvenzhané was five or six, so doing all that she did for this movie really impressed me. What Dwight did impressed me as well. He came in as someone who owned a bakery, and went right into giving this as his first performance. Solid, solid stuff. The cinematography is great in this movie too. I've been watching a lot of movies set in neighborhoods and cities lately. So to be taken into almost the jungle like place that was The Bathtub was nice. This was filmed in the Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana and it really gave of the feel of a place so close to the world, yet still cut off from it.  The music in this was almost an after thought to me when I got into the more cinematic and theatrical stuff in here. The whole subplot with the flashes of Aurochs was a bit odd to me as well. I understand why they were thrown in and also partly why this movie was named I'm sure, but I'm not quite sold on them "stomping" in and out just yet. The length was perfect as this isn't an overly long two-hour crafted film. A lot of times movies can be overly long or just too short. This is one that ended up perfectly for me.

Despite all this praise I'm giving Beasts of the Southern Wild, and rightfully so, this ended up being just an okay movie for me. The plot and story, written by Lucy Alibar and director Ben Zeitlin, are highly original and the cinematography and length are perfect. There's just that "it factor" missing. The acting was as good as can be between Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry. I think this just lacked that spark, that breakout, that connection I have with other great movies. Maybe it's because I've never lived through a devastating storm or a need to rebuild my life. I just couldn't get fully into this. I really wanted to love this movie, but it only ended up as something I want to like more.

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