Monday, October 19, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

Thank god for fate. I had resigned myself to not seeing this probably until DVD. Then, I walked to work this morning to find my building closed. The result of a burst water main. I grabbed a little breakfast and thought about my plans for the day. I jumped the gun on my "19 days to Halloween" feature (see Fido) and then sat in my chair surfing the web for a bit. On a whim, I checked fandango. 11:20 showing of Where the Wild Things Are. Hmmmm....looked at the clock. 11:10. Set the computer down and booked it to the theater. I didn't even miss any trailers (though with the exception of Fantastic Mr. Fox, they all kind of sucked).

This one sure brought me back. Not to any particular movie, but to my childhood. A time when I actually used my imagination on a regular basis. Max (Max Records) is a typical child (at least back in my days). An overactive imagination, lots of time spent by himself, a fairly antagonistic relationship with his sibling(s). The movie opens with him building a snow fort, trying to get his sister to play, and then watching as her friends destroy it (thinking they're joining in on the fun). In retaliation, Max tracks snow in her room and on her bed, to the chagrin of his mother. The set up brought back memories of hours spent alone, exploring, dreaming up fantastic scenarios, building things, not receiving enough attention, and ultimately waiting for mom to get home.

One night, his mom (Catherine Keener) has a boyfriend over. Max acts out. He doesn't want frozen corn, he pouts, he yells, and he flees. He runs and runs and runs until he comes to the edge of a shore to an endless sea. Docked on the shore is a little sail boat. He gets aboard and sets sail through stormy waters ending up in a distant land. The land of the Wild Things.

The wild things are a wonderful creation of special effects and costume. Not exactly menacing, although they sometimes delve close to that, they quickly embrace Max as their king. Of course, a couple threaten to eat him first. James Gandolfini voices Carol, the one that becomes Max's closest friend. His voice work is wonderful, as is all the voice work, from Catherine O'hara (as Judith "the downer")to Lauren Ambrose (as KW) and Paul Dano (as Alexander). I didn't even recognize Chris Cooper as Douglas....

....shit, I'm gonna stop this "proper" review. Yes, the movie is great. I loved every minute of it, but I gotta be honest about something here. Sadly, I'm not sure kids today are gonna dig it like I did. I've been reading a lot about kids saying the movie was too sad, or it left them bored, or whatever. It's just not a movie for these times I guess. This is a movie for kids of my time and the times before. As the movie began, I wasn't sure what I was gonna think. We got this Max kid running around like a crazy animal, attacking his dog, and shit. Then we got a freeze frame as the title comes up. I thought the kid was pretty annoying at first. Then, something clicked. He built that snow fort, lined up some snowballs, and began an attack on his sister's friends. His sister was embarrassed, barely even acknowledged him as she drove away. This kid was me. He was all of my friends. When I wasn't at school, I could spend eight hours outdoors. Easy. I grew up with miles of woods, corn fields, beaver ponds to explore, had adventures, sat in a tree for hours at a time scanning the horizon. Do kids even build snow forts these days?

Mind if I get on my high horse, my pedestal, my soap box for a while? Possibly for the rest of this write up? Today, it's all about the electronic gadgets man. They got their ipods, their iphones, their PS3s. It's hard to imagine a kid spending more than an hour outside. I can't really say I blame them. I'm that way now with my DVDs, my laptop, etc. I'll kill my weekends watching movies. Hell, I just joined a gym and even most of that time is spent absent mindedly peddling a bike while I stare blankly at a TV or listen to my ipod. These are shitty times to grow up in. I can't even really blame the parents I guess. We're all victims to progress. Now, if you have a healthy imagination people might think you need therapy (which is something I heard referring to Max in this picture). Fuck man, it's depressing as hell to think about. Which is why I don't understand when people, ok mostly children type people, label the movie "sad".

It's positively life affirming. I felt good watching it. I remembered what it was like to be a kid for the first time in years. I'm not sure kids today will get anything close to this experience (well, sure, they're still kids but I'm pretty sure their experiences are different than mine were). Yeah, the creatures are great to look at. They're individual characters. They have their issues. They struggle with relationships, experience unrequited love, laugh, cry, and build things (only to destroy them). Yes, this is a movie that takes place within a child's mind but it's not something like Alice in Wonderland or The Neverending Story. The plot, if it can be called that, is simple. Boy feels ignored at home. Boy travels to where the wild things are. Boy and wild things learn some shit from each other, build giant fort. Boy misses family, says goodbye, goes home. That's the story. We got no villains, no major conflicts. Yeah, there are a few "fights", a few mildly tense moments, some laughs. The wild things act just like kids. Are kids. I don't know where I'm going with this one any more.

I think parents should probably try seeing this twice. Preferably, first without their children. I can imagine their enjoyment being influenced greatly by the enjoyment, or lack of enjoyment, of their kids. They see them stirring, complaining, becoming occupied with their cup holders, etc. It's not gonna happen for them. The picture did well it's first weekend ($32 Million), but I can already feel the negative word of mouth (mostly from parents and their kids) swirling.

I guess, to put it in simple terms, this is just a mood piece. Nostalgia is a part of that. The emotions from all the characters are real. The relationship between Max and his mother is genuine. I loved it, that's about all I can say. Did it make me sad. A little. Not for what was happening on screen. Everything on the screen filled me with happiness. Ah...hell....I may have cried a bit. There I said it. I had some tears at the beginning even and especially at the end, hell I think there were some during the middle parts. Simply because these characters were doing good to each other. The sadness I felt was more personal than that. I've lost my wild thing and I want it back. If only for a moment.


Anonymous said...

congratulations, Brian on your gayest review to date. PS. Can't wait to see it.

briankirker said...

Hey, come on. It's not like I cried during the trailer for 'Blindside' or something.

elmo said...

Guess the water main of your heart burst as well.

Megmo Eskimo said...

"We're all victims of progress"..."I want my wild thing back" (although taken by itself, that sounds perverted!)...these quotes signify what might be your most eloquent, wise and bittersweet review yet.

I had resigned myself to not seeing it, because I thought no adaptation would live up to the wonder of the book. No film could capture the rawness of childhood imagination, the wonder and hope that it elicits. Yet your review made me nostalgic for my own childhood, for the days when I built snow forts or twig forts, depending on the season, and had my Barbie doll trek through the "jungle," aka the overgrown grass in my backyard.

You are so right, children, and adults, have lost something, something precious and fragile, in this age of technology. Cannot wait to see it.

Megmo Eskimo said...

Oh and I DID cry at the "Blindside" trailer. Yes, I am that sap.

brian said...

Tread carefully Megan. Try to go with an open mind. Apparently, my reaction to the film isn't very common. I still don't know why it's been labeled depressing. Also, I haven't read the book since I was a kid. Didn't even mention Sendek in my write up. Didn't want it to affect my viewing. Then, the other day, I went back and read it (took me about a minute). How dare this movie take so many liberties! About 99% of the shit wasn't even in the book! The Things didn't even have names, weren't given individual voices, didn't build a giant fort! Shit man, (spoiler) the forest didn't even grow in his room. I take it all back. The movie is an offensive piece of shit. Also, Max is 9 in the movie, not 5. And, Mark Ruffalo isn't the mother's boyfriend and we don't even see the mother in the book! I could keep going if you want. Spike Jonze has just taken us to class. "How not to adapt a 5 page children's book 101".

Megmo Eskimo said... See! That was precisely why I did NOT want to see the movie!!