Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Film review: Where The Wild Things Are

Director: Spike Jonze
Cast: Max Records, James Gandolfini
Country: USA

I don't want you to go, I'll eat you up, I love you so – KW

If Spike Jonze’s adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s classic story Where The Wild Things Are is the year’s most anticipated film, it might also the year's most flawed work of art. On the surface it is a simple story about childhood angst and flight into fantasy, but beneath that rough irreverent topsoil lies something so deeply personal and individual no one person’s experience can easily be compared to another.

Feral child Max (newcomer Max Records) is a force of nature who literally consumes the screen; chaotic energy in wolve’s clothing, wrestling a canine companion. Jonze whisks the audience back to its childhood as Max builds an igloo, preparing snowballs for an assault on his big sister’s friends, a plan that that does not quite go accordingly. Igloo in ruins, the young lad is left to nurse a damaged ego, with only his imagination to provide comfort.

Herein lie the most prominent themes of Where The Wild Things Are: loneliness and fantasy. Max’s reality is one defined in by an absent father, a distracted mother and a sister who doesn’t seem to care. That we see so little of the later two and none of the former is crucial when Max takes flight into the unknown night, before discovering a sailboat and crossing an ocean to an island inhabited by giant furry beasties. Through a mixture of brash courage and childish naivety the monsters declare Max their king, thanks to the attention of Carol, a much-desired patriarch (voiced by James Gandolfini) who simultaneously embodies the film’s overlying sense of melancholy.

Taking a book which contains only nine sentences and turning it into an $80 million feature film is no mean feat and writer Dave Eggers retains the original’s erudite approach to dialogue. As a result the slow-paced second act struggles to find meaningful narrative for its protagonists while the film’s Wild Things never really seem that threatening, beautiful though they are realised. Despite the technical expertise at work, Jonze somehow fails to find penetrate the greater depths of his ambitions.

Yet as WTWTA speeds to its conclusion, whatever angst we've suppressed in our sub-conscious, whether our relationship with our parents or our own adulthood, is suddenly and unceremoniously exposed. It is not so much a nostalgic yearning for childhood that is evoked as a need, the burning desire to belong. Family matters; and while we might wish to escape from those closest to us, Jonze reminds us that saying goodbye can be the hardest thing of all.


Unknown said...

I wanted to love this film, so to be taken aback by all the angst and neuroses was quite devastating. That said, I loved the look of the film - if only Eggers had checked his issues at the door.