Where the Weird Things Are

Carol & Max

After I realized Avatar was going to be the film Ewoks with blue cats and Halo soldiers, Spike Jonze first film since Adaptation became my new must-see movie of the fall season. An early test of the creatures I saw in 2008 was what first got me excited, as did reports of a bizarrely dark film that frightened studio Warner Brothers and test audiences alike. The teaser trailer, set to an orchestral version of The Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” looked incredible, and I was sure the film was going to be the masterpiece of 2009, until my friend Rob Malone mentioned an aspect of it he had noticed that I hadn’t. He said it looked too “indie rock,” as if Jonze had taken Maurice Sendak’s work and transplanted it into a hand-held, filtered HD art film custom-tailored for Gen X Williamsburgers and their ironic Misfits T-shirt-wearing babies. Immediately his observation hit a chord with me, perhaps because if the trailer was any indication, he was right.

It didn’t stop me from going to see it, especially when I got invited to a free screening last Wednesday at MoMa as part of their new Film+ membership, which my father recently got me (thanks, Dad! Man, you’re awesome). The membership promises future pre-screenings (the curator mentioned one for Peter Jackson’s upcoming The Lovely Bones), so next time I’ll try and get a review out before the film’s release, and not be lazy. Where the Wild Things Are was even presented by star Katherine Keener, another added bonus.

It’s been four days since I saw the film and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. It’s certainly not the masterpiece I think anyone was hoping for- it has its flaws- but there’s still something very honest and true and its core, something that really touched me. I enjoyed the fully live-action bits at the beginning, especially the way Jonze managed to convey the current state of the family without any unnecessary expository dialogue. I was actually expecting the film to be more vague and metaphorical, but once Max starts palling around with the overly depressed monsters, it’s immediately apparent what the connections between the fantasy world and his real life are. All of the monsters represent facets of his personality, or those of his family members. The conflict between Carol and KW seemed like a mix between Max’s parents’ divorce and his sister’s newfound friends (i.e. Bob & Terry the owls). Alexander acted as Max’s fears of being ignored or unheard, while Judith came off as the bad side of his mother. Most important of all is Carol, who is Max’s own “wild thing,” the rambunctious side of his personality that he ultimately has to abandon at the end in order to grow up.

The film was, more than anything else, weird. Really, really weird. While visually spectacular (way to go Henson company!), the film undoubtedly dipped in the middle- it became so melancholy and talky I can’t even really remember what happened. But by the time Max was sailing back home and Carol was weeping and running down the beach like Bo Derek, I was trying incredibly hard not to cry. And while I left the theater wondering what it was I had just witnessed, ultimately I decided that if a piece of art can affect one in such a raw, emotional way, it must be doing something right.

This film’s going to have a lot of haters, from critics, to film students to the general public. But I’ll stand by it. It’s not perfect, far from it, really… but it’s beautiful, and that’s a rare thing to find in movies these days.

SCORE: 8.3

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~ by TheHil on October 19, 2009.

One Response to “Where the Weird Things Are”

  1. […] Read the review. […]

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