Sunday, October 18, 2009

I'll eat you up, I love you so.

Where the Wild Things Are is a glorious and moving film. I had high expectations, based on my love for the book, my love for director Spike Jonze, and my love for the co-writer of the screenplay, Dave Eggers--and this little masterpiece of a movie far exceeded my expectations.

You can read stories all over the web about the troubles Jonze and Eggers went through to turn Maurice Sendak's 10-sentence children's classic into a full-blown script, but whatever their process, it works beautifully. Young Max (played flawlessly by newcomer Max Records) is given a backstory that fits perfectly with the story of the book, and the first part of the movie, the pre-Wild Things part, sets the stage for this sensitive but troubled boy to create his own world. Catherine Keener does a fantastic job, playing Max's mom with delicacy and grace.

But the true joy (and sadness) of the film comes when Max sails off to the island where the wild things are. These creatures are fully developed characters, each with quirks and unique traits. Though they are giant puppets (a much smarter choice than using CGI), I got lost in the world and believed they were real. Part of this comes from the fact that they are voiced by famous actors, and they don't talk like monsters but like regular people. Catherine O'Hara plays the funny and neurotic Judith, Chris Cooper plays the tree-hole-making Douglas, and Lauren Ambrose (from Six Feet Under) plays the troubled soul KW, and all of the actors do a marvelous job creating personalities for each of these beasts. My two favorite monsters were Alexander, a lost and ignored kid, played with great sensitivity by Paul Dano, and the sort-of leader of the Wild Things (before Max becomes their king) Carol, played masterfully by James Gandolfini. Carol is at times hilarious, at times tender, and at times very frightening. These monsters have their troubles and emotions, and the fact that they are so human-like adds to the power of the story. Max knows that at any moment he might be eaten, and the sweet and loving voices clash with the wild physicality of his new friends.

Jonze's direction, from the beautiful camera angles to the set design to the music score, really hits a lot of perfect notes. He has created a magical film here. I laughed a lot, I cried, I was moved. Where the Wild Things Are sublimely conveys the mind, heart, and soul of a troubled young boy, and it is one of the best films of the year.


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