Sunday, October 18, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

"Where the Wild Things Are" marks the first film by Spike Jonze where he has flown without Charlie Kaufman, and it's perhaps his most limitless. Here, he adapts Maurice Sendak's picture book phenomenon into a movie with the help of Dave Eggers, who's coming off the low-grade "Away We Go." They craft a whimsical, deep, and morose picture, one of the most interesting children's films in a long time. And one good adaptation: the book is much colder, and less affable towards its characters.

The screen version is more understanding. Max Records, who's at the start of his career, plays the infamous Max, who is given good reason to be sad. His parents (one of which is Catherine Keener, the link between Jonze's three works) are divorced, his igloo has been ruined by his sister's friends, and he's troubled by the thought that the sun will explode. After an incident at home when Keener has a date with, as been said before, Mark Ruffalo, Max runs away to a boat, which he travels away in to the land of the wild things. Before I dive in to explain these furry creatures, let me say that they have been terrifically re-created onscreen. This is one of the biggest reasons to see this film. And what wild things they are. The biggest I believe is also the one with the biggest soul and the biggest capacity to be wounded, Carol. James Gandolfini turns in a saddening vocal performance, and should be ranked among the best voices this year with Philip Seymour Hoffman in "Mary and Max." Both fit their parts so well, yet both will not be recognized due to their mediums.

Anyways, Carol is perhaps the most disliked of the bunch, but he ends up to be the closest to Max. There are also Judith (Catherine O'Hara, with a slightly antagonistic role here, gladly moving on from "Away We Go" as well), Ira (an unrecognizable Forest Whitaker), Douglas (Chris Cooper), Alexander (Paul Dano, another actor who was recently in a terrible comedy, "Gigantic"), and another amiable outsider, KW (Lauren Ambrose). There is plenty of depth in this lineup. Max, as you may very well know, becomes their king after talking his way out of a corner (being eaten). He decrees that a wild rumpus shall begin, and sets off a wonderful middle piece, one of joy, beauty, and unstableness. Lance Acord (who has shot for both Jonze and his ex-wife Sofia Coppola) does marvelous work and reaches the film to its highest of heights. The cinematography is the film's strength, easily, as is the art direction. Also, I think the film is better when in Wild Thing-dom as opposed to at home with Max and his fragmented family.

The film is like a dream: wonderful, but it has to end, and it makes you feel sad when you think that you've lost it. The film is more blissful than that, and ends lighter than that, but that's an essential truth: when Max says he wants to run his kingdom forever, you know it cannot happen, but he probably does not. As people said, that's the beauty of being young, and, as people said, the film captures that. However flawed it may be at times (such as the beginning and the end, which were a little too uniform), "Where the Wild Things Are" is a very good film about childhood and playing and blissfulness, that may not appeal to those going through it, which may be a good thing. Why? I think the film works better for older kids and adults, for these are those who can think back on their childhoods and think wistfully of their adventures and relate to a character that wasn't really in the picture book. B+


aspergiansarah said...

I'd like to see this. The trailers got my attention, and Spike Jonze was involved in "The Fall," a movie I really liked (I own it.)It was my dad's favorite book when he was little, so he's wary about this adaptation. I hope he changes his mind because it looks interesting.

Nick Duval said...

The funny thing is, I think it's even better than the book. The character Max in the film is much deeper and funny and endearing, whereas in the book, he's more one-dimensional. The monster illustrations are spectacular, of course. They're excellent in the film. See it, definitely. Worth it? Totally.

-- Nick