It will be a while until Beasts of the Southern Wild charges into theaters in Central Massachusetts, however if you're up for a drive to Boston, you'll be able to take in one of the year's best films in just a few weeks (on July 6 to be exact.) I was thrilled to score an invitation to an advance screening the at the Coolidge Corner Theater a few days ago, an event where a full house of curious spectators got the chance to see the film so many film festivals have awarded with numerous honors. It was also a special showing where the director and two leads of the film, including an eight year-old newcomer who is almost certain to land an Oscar nomination, hosted a question and answer period directly after the screening concluded.
BOTSW isn't one of those straight-forward narratives that are easy to digest. It's a blurry tale that, not unlike a piece of art, viewers will take many different things from, both pleasant and haunting. Set in an imaginary flooded land (filmed in Louisiana) called The Bathtub, residents of the deep south are portrayed as far more than the idiotic hicks Hollywood tends to depict them in most mainstream films. We meet Hushpuppy and her father Wink, who live a very different life than most of us are accustomed to living. The two have an odd relationship – most notably that they live in their own individual beat up trailers and seem to go about their day to day business independently. When they are together, they don't get along, each one seeming to have matters the other doesn't appreciate. Hushpuppy wants to know where her mother went (among many many other things), while Wink has a dark secret he just wants to keep hidden. When a giant Hurricane Katrina-type storm turns their already wet world upside down, the adventure begins. This is all being told while cutting away periodically to reveal giant, grotesque beasts charging towards an unknown location. It's odd, but kind of amazing.
When you forget you are watching actors and not real people, you know something great is happening. Quvenzhané Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy, and Dwight Henry who plays Wink seem to know their characters all too well. At the Q&A following the film screening, Henry revealed that he was one of the Louisiana business owners who refused to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina and knows what is it like to attempt to weather a giant storm – not unlike his character in the film. I hope the Academy pays attention to their work, as well as the work of the director Benh Zeitlin, who did such an excellent job on what is his first feature film.
The PG-13 rated movie deals with some very heavy topics and intense elements of peril, but refrains from excessive profanity, violence, and graphic sexual content. The film works best for those that are willing to sit back and try something offbeat. The story moves slowly, but that is not a negative criticism. If you've seen and enjoyed the film Whale Rider you will get an idea for the pacing of this movie. I am tempted to write more but don't want to spoil the experience. I can add though that the musical score is one of the best I've heard in years. The rest I will let you take in for yourself. You don't want to miss what is certainly one of the years best films, and I would score it a 9 out of 10.