Movie Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild last weekend, and I went in prepared to be amazed. But…I wasn’t amazed. It’s a good movie and all, but perhaps not deserving (in my humble opinion) of all the hype it is currently receiving. Let me explain.

The movie tells the story of Hushpuppy, a little girl who lives in an area of Louisiana called “The Bathtub,” a bayou under constant threat of flooding. The film shows how Hushpuppy overcomes various challenges in the terribly challenging environment that surrounds her: fending for herself in her father’s absence, dealing with her father’s illness and alcoholism, surviving the storm that turns her home into a floating island, and searching for her mother.

Quvenzhane Wallis, the little girl who plays Hushpuppy, was absolutely spectacular. Sometimes I think all the praise that’s being heaped on this film is being heaped on it because of her performance, and not because of the film as a whole. And that, I can totally get on board with. Wallis is incredibly powerful in this role, perhaps most impressively when she’s silent: the expressions on her face always killed me.

Dwight Henry, in the role of Hushpuppy’s father, was also incredible. I appreciated his performance even more after I found out this: he’s not an actor by trade, but a baker, a local who lived near where the movie was filmed. I’m sure he makes a mean croissant, but after this, he might want to seriously consider acting. He was good.

Once we get past the performances, though, the movie started to lose me a bit. First, all the critics keep praising its “creativity” – and I’m not sure I agree with that. It was clearly shot on a budget and the filmmakers managed to do wonderful things with very little, so I guess there’s ingenuity at work here, but I wasn’t dazzled by it the way that seemingly every single critic has been. Also, maybe it’s just me, but when they started cutting between the film’s main action and ice caps melting, I started to worry that we were slipping into Tree of Life territory here. Which wouldn’t exactly make the movie creative, either.

My ultimate test for a movie is: would I want to re-watch it? And while I’m glad I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, I don’t think I’d ever feel compelled to re-watch it. It was difficult enough to watch the first time around – seeing the conditions that Hushpuppy and her neighbors live in was rough and stomach-churning at times. And while I’ve heard critics call the film “uplifting,” I’m also baffled by that. Hushpuppy lives in abject poverty, and there’s no sign that her life is getting any better by the end of the film. Yes, it’s inspiring that such a little girl has the strength to persevere through so many awful things, but as the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but think her life would have even more awful things in store for her future.

My Grade: B-

(Image via the New York Times)

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