Unworthy push? I've never been one to judge how or what it took to get a film on the big screen, because the reality is that shouldn't matter. But, sometimes a film will come out of absolutely nowhere to your local theater or even Red Box begging the question of, why? It’s a fair one when you figure not every film gets chosen for these outlets, especially one that only cost $1.8 million to make. That’s borderline Netflix territory, and I don’t mean through streaming, as very few independent films will be featured there. No, I mean the “straight to your mailbox” method, the only one that a film like “Beasts of the Southern Wild” could be seen, had it not been nominated for Best Picture at next month’s Academy Awards ceremony. Luckily though, it was, making it an easy choice at Red Box, but one that I’m still having trouble putting words to, given what I encountered.
The story…from what I could tell was mostly fictional, but apparently drew some inspiration from a few small fishing communities threatened by nature, in the worst of ways, down below sea level in one of Louisiana’s many Parishes’. Here, that community was dubbed the “Bathtub,” which believe it or not was a community cut off from the rest of the country by a levee, way south of the city. Left and virtually forgotten by whoever thought it would be a good idea to have a community this south and this under the sea level, the Bathtub residents managed to make a life for themselves. Kids like Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) learned about survival and the release of ‘Aurochs’ (prehistoric creatures from the melting ice caps)in school while their parents like Wink (Dwight Henry) were off fishing or hunting for that night’s dinner. It was simple, but it worked for many of the residents until a bad storm reached their community and nearly wiped it off the map. Shortly thereafter, while Wink, Hushpuppy and others were surveying the aftermath, they accidently alert the authorities who immediately take them all into an emergency shelter. Once there, Hushpuppy finds out her father is very sick, but unwilling to accept any help, Wink and the others escape and go back to the Bathtub where they felt the safest, despite all the devastation an uncertainty around them leading to conclusion that will have you scratching your head.
Cast away - For a film and budget like this, the cast is the least of concerns for the director, which is why it was so impressive to watch Quvenzhane Wallis work her way through this maze of a story. I mean this kid is only eight and had to lie about that to earn the part in this film when she auditioned at the age of five, beating out 4,000 other contenders. That’s insane and yet, there she was treading dirty water and taking over scenes like she had been doing it all her life. Sure, it was against fellow inexperienced talent, but for her to do that in a film like the one here is rare. What a dominant performance and really one that deserves all the praise that it’s been getting the past nine months at nearly every festival or award ceremony. Outside of Wallis, the fellow members to this cast fit in nicely, but again we’re not talking about a script that demanded a whole lot from them. Sure, Dwight Henry who played Wink had a little more to do, and he proved to be the right choice for his first acting gig, but outside of that, this was Wallis’ film to showcase her talent in.
A blurred visionary? For those wondering, the story here was based off a one-act play called Juicy and Delicious. This play was written by Lucy Alibar, the same writer who helped director Benh Zeitlin write the screenplay for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” So, while it might feel real and possibly resemble some real life communities south of New Orleans, only residents of those parts can be the real judge. The rest of us can only imagine, but that was one aspect of this film that struck me the most, the fact there probably are people just like this living in some of those unknown Parish’s. Call me naïve if you want, but real or unreal, it was a sight to watch this kind of drama on the big screen. And maybe that’s why it has received the attention it’s gotten thus far outside of Wallis’ performance, but to me, this was just a different kind of film to watch. Not unlike a lot of other’s that never even reach the big screen, much less a Red Box at your local grocery or Walgreens. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing, I just think you have know what you’re about to watch here, given how raw this story was to endure; because it was about as uninhibited as it gets, filmed in and out of a swamp. That’s a credit to director Benh Zeitlin, who took this odd story and made it one people can, I guess, relate to or watch. I just wasn’t one of them, begging the question of just how many other’s like me is out there?
Bottom Line – There’s no doubt “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a gripping story filled with artistic moviemaking. And if you’re curious like me to see how a film like this was even nominated for Best Picture to begin with, go check it out and decide for yourself. Because for the life of me, I can’t remember the last film I have seen that looked and felt like this one did, which is not necessarily a good or bad thing, just the truth about what I saw.
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