Friday, June 29, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub. The Bathtub was a bayou below the levy in Louisiana, and it was not what you or I would consider livable conditions by any stretch of the imagination. But for Hushpuppy and her daddy and their little community, it was home, and they wouldn't have been able to live anywhere else.

If that sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale or a myth, that's probably the best way to describe Beasts of the Southern Wild, a story about a little girl (played amazingly by a tiny little biscuit named Quvenzhané Wallis - for future reference, my best guess at pronunciation is "cue-VEN-zha-NAY") whose universe starts to fall apart when her father becomes ill.

Hushpuppy's mother left the Bathtub a while back, and Hushpuppy's father, Wink, has been trying to prepare his six-year-old child for a time when he can no longer be around to protect her. Hushpuppy has her own house, separate from Wink, where she keeps what little is left to remember her mother by. If you let yourself get overcome in pity for these characters, you might just die during a scene where Hushpuppy takes an old Michael Jordan jersey from a shrine on the wall and drapes it on a chair, where it proceeds to speak to her in her mother's voice. But what I love about this film is that it never pities its characters or their way of life. Ever. This is simply how Hushpuppy sees the world, and how her community has taught her to live. When someone dies in the Bathtub, they aren't mourned, they are celebrated, and crying is just not done. We get a nice, long look at Hushpuppy's life in the Bathtub, including what happens when a heavy rain puts it entirely underwater. And by the time the third act rolls around, you should see this place not as a den of absolute poverty and want but as something beautiful. Which is why it's so jarring and frustrating to see people from above the levy (the "normal" world) poking around and forcing the people out "for their own good."

But I've already said too much. This is a stunning movie, and Quvenzhané Wallis capably carries it on her itty bitty shoulders with a performance that doesn't seem possible from one so young. It's only out in a few cities at the moment, but I'm sure it will get a wider release once it starts picking up awards momentum, which it is bound to do. Keep an eye out for it. It's a rare beauty of a film.