Monday, 25 February 2013

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Academy Award Nominations: 4

·         Best Picture
·         Best Director (Benh Zeitlin)
·         Best Actress (Quvenzhane Wallis)
·         Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin)

In a southern Louisiana community called the Bathub, cut off from the rest of the world by a levee, Hushpuppy and her father Wink fend for themselves, living off the earth and looking after one another whilst living in separate yet connected houses. Wink, though, is secretly ill and is struggling to look after Hushpuppy as she grows up, but he's trying his best to teach her everything she needs to fend for herself. As a fearsome storm approaches, Hushpuppy sees it as something broken in the universe that needs fixing, so she does what she can. However, when the storm passes and the Bathtub is flooded, the community will have to pull together to fix things before the flood water kills everything and they're forced to evacuate into the mainland...

There's a reason I like doing Best Picture nominee season. It makes me watch films I'd never usually watch like this one. I'd never even heard of this film until it was announced as a nominee in this and three other high profile categories. Last year, it made me watch Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, despite the fact I hated it. In many ways, this is a very similar film to Extremely Loud, in that it tells the story of a national American tragedy from the last few years through the eyes of a child. In Extremely Loud, Oskar lost his dad in 9/11 and went on a quest to reclaim his memory. Here, Hushpuppy and Wink live through their own Katrina-style disaster and attempt to survive. Similar films, but I liked this one more. What's the difference though? A more likeable central character. I didn't want to reach into my screen and strangle the kid just to shut him or her up.

Hushpuppy is streetwise and aware of her surroundings, and actually does positive things in her desire to make the word better. Oskar was just annoying. I liked Hushpuppy as a lead character, but I didn't like the characters she was surrounded by, especially her father. Hushpuppy seems like an innocent young girl who's forced to grow up before her time because of her surroundings, but that's not made easier by her arsehole father. He's very much the Oskar of Beasts, whilst Hushpuppy would be the Sandra Bullock of the piece. The rest of the community don't even seem very helpful either, and seem more annoying than anything else, even the teacher who seems like a bullshitter of the highest degree. Maybe it's just me, but I can't connect with the Bathtub way of living, we don't have anything close to it in the UK really so it's all just lost on me.

Quvenzhane Wallis is really good as Hushpuppy, but I can't see why she's been nominated for Best Actress. I think there's a stigma attached to lead performances by child actors. The bar seems to be put far lower for child actors, so as soon as they show any kind of emotion or ferocity, they're recognised, whereas an adult female actresses would have to put in a phenomenal performance to get recognised. Don't get me wrong, she's good, but not THAT good. She carries the film without a doubt, but I've seen far better performances from other female actresses this year. If anything, Dwight Henry was better as Wink but has gone unrecognised. He was good because I hated him, which meant he played his character of an arsehole perfectly. I can't get over the fact I hated him though, big no no. Over than that, the ensemble might have played their roles as a quirky independent community well, but my lack of Bayou knowledge prevents me from saying how good they were.

The script just seems disjointed, and deliberately so in a manner that suggests they were trying to make this film as quirky as the characters it focuses on. Benh Zeitlin seems like an odd director anyway, not looking at the raw footage until after the conclusion of the shoot (which after 5 years of learning how to make films infuriates me!!) and creating a film crew out of local people from the shooting location, which would explain why the film looks so roughly shot, but again this was probably another deliberate decision. This film doesn't look like anything I've seen before and I don't like it, it just smacks of amateur film making. Clearly, all of these things were deliberate choices in order to try and achieve the look and feel of a film made within that kind of community, but I just can't agree with it. The purist in me is raging at this film and I can't get over it.

Which leads me to my conclusion. I didn't really like this film. I appreciated the story line, but I didn't like the setting of the film, the characters used to tell the story, half of the dialogue, the way the film was written, the way it was shot and the methods the director employed to make it. This isn't a film I would have watched by choice, and I won't be watching it again any time soon. I liked it more than Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close though, but that's probably the only good thing I could say about it, and even that's not much of a compliment. Other people many have liked this, and other people will like it, but I'm not one of them.

Rating: *1/2

Beasts of the Southern Wild was released on 19th October 2012 and is no longer being shown in cinemas.