Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Movie Review:Where the Wild Things Are

(For the radio version, please click here).

‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is about a truism a lot of us forget when we fondly remember our youth. Childhood can suck. Maybe mom was working, or dad wasn’t around; your big sister stopped hanging out with you, or nobody listened to your stories; or perhaps your playmates were just as selfish and emotionally stunted as you were – leading to lots of fights. The monsters in this film, emanating from Max’s mind are surrogates, perhaps, to his own personality traits and capture the intensity of the age - the intense friendships, the intense loyalty, and the intense betrayal when promises are broken. Cinematically the film captures the intense sensory experiences of a child’s mind not yet dulled by an education, a job, or any of the numbing repetitions and rituals of adulthood. The setting, the seamless special effects, the dialogue, the monsters are the mind of a 10 year old.

I admit I was terrified to see this film. I nearly cried when I saw the trailer. I mean, it’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’! The book left an indelible mark on me. The monsters looked just like the ones in the book. I dreamed of those monsters as a child, especially their yellow eyes. And Spike Jonze as the director; he directed ‘Three Kings’ and ‘Being John Malkovich’, two of my favorite films. So I allowed myself to have high expectations, but I know better. See, I subscribe to the tenant that the root of all unhappiness is unmet expectations. Better, really, to not have any expectations and be pleasantly surprised.

Unfortunately, the film did not meet my high, high expectations. Be assured, this film will be studied by film schools. The film is pitch perfect for what it is trying to do. But I was supposed to cry - darn it - and pretend I wasn’t by rubbing my eyes like I’m tired. So, why in this masterpiece, a film of rare beauty, did I not care?

In analyzing my detachment, it occurred to me that I simply didn’t like the boy, Max. When a single character carries a film, they have to be captivating; captivatingly sinister or heroic or even normal. Max exhibits, in the language of academic professional educators, oppositional defiant disorder. In the language of us simpler folk, he’s a brat - a brat who bites the shoulder of his hard working mom. This is not captivating.

Go see the film anyway, but I recommend not bringing children. For a movie based on a children’s book about a child’s mind, it’s not really child friendly. The themes of forgiveness and a mom’s love, and navigating the emotional minefield of a child’s self-centered world would probably go over the heads of most kids under ten anyway. Besides, as I’ve said, Max was a brat. I’m not sure you would want your child to, in the language of academic professional educators, model Max’s behavior. By not having a kid you can focus on the amazing writing and acting that captures so precisely the trauma and troubles of childhood. In many ways, this is the most adult film I’ve seen this year.

I give ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ three and a half stars. It is playing this weekend at Gross Alaska Glacier Cinema in the Valley. This is Clint Farr, Alone at the Movies.