So...I just found out that I'm going to be a dad, for the third time! Yeah, I'm a bit shocked. Looks like I picked up a little something from Italy I didn't quite expect. Anyways, I've always said that winter was my favorite time of year, and this is the perfect way to start the season. So, with this crazy news in mind (seriously, DID NOT SEE THIS COMING) I thought it would be cool to visit some of our favorite films about childhood. I don't mean children's movies, but movies about what it's like to be a child. I was going to post something like this a month ago, when I posted my picks for Best Picture of 2009 (where Where the Wild Things Are is my undebatable winner) and was questioned as to my love of the film. Of all the films to express the sentement of childhood, I feel that that is the finest (followed closely by The Red Ballon).
Here is my full review of my beloved Wild Things (originally posted on Amazon):
I’m going to try and contain myself while writing this review, holding back from blurting out things like “masterpiece” and “greatest film of the year” and “pure, unbridled brilliance” every other sentence. The fact remains that I’ve been chomping at the bit to write this for some time, and those three phrases (and many more) have been flying around my head for months now. In fact, the more films I see from this year the more I am convinced that, not only is this the best film of the year, but it may quite possibly be one of THE best films I’ve ever seen; ever.
I’m a gigantic fan of the book by Maurice Sendak. What I love so much about the book is that it is far from your average children’s book, yet what I find so funny is that so many consider it one. I don’t think many people truly understand the point behind the book, and so I was so happy when I saw this film because it completely GOT the point.
‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is quite simply a story about what it feels like to BE a child. It is not a story for children as much as one ABOUT them, from their level but completely poignant and provoking. While the book may appear simple (it is extremely short) it is far from it, for it really evokes a real emotional connection in the reader. Spike Jonze beautifully captured the essence of this story with his unique vision, proving to be a complement to what Sendak already established. I have read the complaints by some (including critics and friends) and to them I just have to say that they seem to miss the point entirely. One of my friends even said, after all of his complaining about the script (which is one of the most spectacular parts of this film BTW) that it seemed to capture “what it felt like to be a child” and to me that just completely blew his entire argument out of the water.
That was the entire point of the film, and so, if it accomplished that then it did its job.
The film focuses on Max, a young boy who is having it tough. He lives in a single parent family with his mother and sister. Neither seem to have enough time for him. His sister has her friends and her life and they don’t seem to have any care or concern for Max (which can be seen in a heartbreaking sequence involving a snow-fort). His mother is struggling to provide for her kids and maintain an active dating life and so this leaves Max feeling neglected. After a serious blowup at home, we find Max fleeing his home in a rage and soon he is sailing, by boat, to the land of the Wild Things. Here he meets a slew of strange creatures living together. You have Carol, the apparent leader; Douglas, his closest companion; Ira and Judith, the bickering couple; Alexander, the outcast; The Bull, the mysterious one and KW, the voice of reason. When Max first encounters the clan, Carol is being quite destructive. He is brokenhearted by KW’s decision to leave their group for her ‘new friends’. The presence of Max brings out another side to him though, as he sees companionship and possibilities he had lost sight of.
Soon, Max is one of the gang.
For me, watching ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is an overwhelming experience. There are so many facets of this film that move me in ways I never expected, and the more I see it (I broke my record with ‘theater’ visits on this one), the more I am in love with it.
The film is really one figurative overlay after another. Everything we witness relates to Max’s life beautifully, despite their apparent ambiguities. I think that is something that I love so much about this film, for the more I discuss it with friends the more I can see their input and see their ‘understanding’ of the film. For instance, the inclusion of KW’s friends was a point of major interest with my circle, especially the fact that Max and Carol were the only ones who couldn’t understand what they were saying. Some of friends thought immediately that they represented Max’s sister’s friends, but for me this was a beautiful way to symbolize the fact that children so often fail to understand adults. These two new faces, as wise as they were supposed to be, proved to be foolish to Max and Carol because they simply couldn’t understand them.
I also found this to be a wonderful example of how children, bless their souls, all too often take things far too literally.
The film is a wonderful life lesson as regards to the relationship that children have with their parents and the eventual understanding for the need of headship and guidance. As Max dwells with the group he becomes their King and soon becomes the figurative representation of his own mother. The reversal of the very phrase “I’ll eat you up” has such a beautiful meaning here. In the films outset, Max, in anger, uses that phrase as a dagger pointed at his mother’s heart. In the films conclusion Max hears those very words, from a dear friend, tinged with such sincere beauty and love. For me, this symbolizes that love and respect that children automatically form for their parents. Even in rage they cannot help but ultimately rely on their parents. While his words were meant to hurt, there was love wrapped up in that very statement.
He was hurting, and so while his words ‘hurt’ they were spoken with love.
Some have balked at the ending (just let them eat cake) but for me, it was such a soft and sincere way to end the film, beautifully capturing the films point, message and moral without shoving it down our throats. This film is a brilliant example of how you can get a point across and ultimately become something so lovingly sympathetic and touching without adding layers of unnecessary schmaltz. There is nothing saccharine about this film, and yet it manages to elicit very real emotions from the audience (I cried, twice).
Now, I just want to mention the acting for a minute, because it really deserves it. I just want to mention three names, because there really isn’t time to get into everyone. Max Records, Katherine Keener and James Gandolfini. First of all, Max Records delivers one of the greatest child performances I’ve ever seen. His grasp of childlike innocence was outstanding. He really has to carry this film, and he makes every minor flinch feel so authentic and so natural. When he explains how he is a King I just had this gushing smile on my face because he really GOT it. He didn’t overdo it, trying to be more mature than he was. In fact, his character’s attempt to be more mature was deemed effective because of the choppy and ‘unconvincing way’ in which Records delivered it. You could tell that this was a KID. Keener is only used briefly, but there is such warmth and heartfelt beauty in her performance. She really captures what it meant to be a mother, trapped in her own skin and trying to be there for her child. In fact, that final scene, with the cake, was like icing for her splendid performance.
And then we have James Gandolfini! I have never really been one to praise a performance that was entirely CGI or motion capture or whatever you want to call it. I can’t do that this time though, for what Gandolfini does here is above and beyond sublime. The genuine warmth and authenticity that he brings to Carol is just spellbinding. As you watch his facial gestures you see the heart and soul of this ‘man’. He beautifully captures the same childlike innocence that Records conveys, but he goes a step further to represent the downward spiral marvelously, allowing Max to observe and reflect on what he is seeing. His love, his haste, his panic, his pain, his sorrow, his anger; everything is perfectly conveyed yet it never seems too perfect.
There is always the air of something being ‘off’ that makes everything feel so richly honest.
Honest, that is exactly what this movie is to me. So, with my review done I’m going to give way to my initial urges and just let it all out. This movie is pure, unbridled brilliance; easily the greatest film of the year and, without a doubt, a masterpiece!