The infamous red envelope arrived with “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. Despite the accolades from critics and my friends, I had to wait until I was emotionally ready. So the envelope sat on the chair in my entryway for weeks as I simultaneously promised myself to watch it and wished I picked that other, more fun movie in my queue.
Now that I’ve seen it, I don’t understand what took me so long! The film left me humbled, inspired, and (I am ashamed to admit) bawling. I had that feeling that I can’t explain. Behind the tightness in my throat from holding back tears was something substantial. My rib cage felt more full. That is my definition of good art.
The movie is about the relationship between a young girl, her dying father, and her Louisiana Bayou community, “the bathtub”. It’s a coming of age story, but instead of an angsty teen, you are introduced to a six-year-old who is forced into maturity by a consistent dose of tough love. But save your pity and calls for social and economic justice. That’s not the point. Instead, you get a forceful show of strength.
Hushpuppy, the protagonist, proclaims “the whole universe depends on every piece fitting together just right.” This is at least true for the film. It takes you through intertwining plots, characters and scenery. It seamlessly combines fantasy with reality, history with present. The dialogue speaks to everything at once, and the visuals collide for a powerful ending. The roundness of these themes is reminiscent of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Both display exquisite mastery of storytelling
The film is made more remarkable by the fact that it written, directed and performed by a troupe of novices; empty imdb pages laying in wait. Talk about talent! If this is the next generation of film, let me brace myself.
Benh Zeitlin, the writer and director, credits “Beasts” as his first feature film. His parents are folklorists from Queens and this become apparent in his grasp and presentation of this film.
Quvenzhané Wallis (Hushpuppy) was only 5 years old when she auditioned for this part. Yet her mastery of subtlety while drawing such strong emotions from her audience is phenomenal. Dwight Henry (Hushpuppy’s father) is an entrepreneur and first-time actor. He delivered a energetic and electrifying performance worthy of note.
(Both Walis and Henry will be in Steve McQueen’s upcoming film “Twelve Years A Slave.”)
A Sundance Grand Jury prize winner and Academy Award Best Picture nominee does not need my endorsement. But I’m giving it anyway. WATCH IT!