WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE isn't where Massawyrm wanted to go...
Published at: Oct. 15, 2009, 9:28 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is not what any rational person would call a fun movie. It is not a happy joyous celebration of youth. It is not an adventure film. It’s not a family film. It’s not even a kids film. Oh sure, it looks fun as all hell. Big, fuzzy monsters, poppy hipster music and credits written like they were scribbled in on a Trapper-Keeper during 7th grade math class. The advertising speaks to your youth, your dreams, everything you thought childhood should be. Hell, my wife giggled excitedly every time the trailer came on.
But what Spike Jonze has done with WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is nothing of the sort. In fact, he took a magical, wondrous book and made a very somber, downright depressing film about what childhood is REALLY like. It is a film about the loneliness of being misunderstood and mostly unlikable, a film about that weird kid in your class who always acted out and who many parents nowadays instantly believe Ritalin can cure (or at least should be prescribed to.) I get Max, I really do.
When I was a kid, I was Max. I was that lonely weird kid who was always writing weird stuff in notebooks and reading at recess and acting out mostly for attention. There’s no doubt where this kid is coming from and I love that Jonze went there. This isn’t the typical “lonely misunderstood but secretly cool” kid that we see in most other kids films. Max is an attention starved brat, an uncontrollable pain in the ass that desperately needs to work his shit out.
Enter the Wild Things, which are of course the whole reason you want to see the film. At first they are fantastic – marvelous, wonderful beasts that bring to life everything you ever imagined they were like. Until, that is, you start listening to what they are saying. These beasts are wild. They are unruly. And they are also the whiniest, sorriest, most pathetic imaginary group therapy session of all time. The island Max has sailed to isn’t a magical land of wild beasts. It is a group home for malcontented creatures.
And I get it. What Jonze does here is put Max on an island and forces him to watch his whole home life play out before his eyes in terms he can understand. And whether you want to believe the island is real or something playing out in Max’s subconscious is up to you. And the way he does it is marvelous. The eloquence in which he boils down the loneliness we all experience at one time or another is nothing short of brilliant. I fully understand why the people who LOVE this movie love it. But everyone else?
They’ll be bored to tears.
Nothing happens in this movie. Nothing. It is one of those rare films that can be completely summed up in one or two lines without skipping any major details. When things get too boring, one of the monsters grabs Max by the hand and takes him somewhere on the island to show him something. Or one of the monsters throws a fit. Or we get another pop song fueled montage. And when the boredom passes, Jonze puts that back in his bag of tricks to randomly draw from again when things inevitably slow down. Again. Because really, nothing happens. The film is a two hour metaphor for a 9 year old boy working out his shit.
Spike Jonze has taken a relatively respectable budget and created an arthouse film about childhood that had our family-filled audience buzzing with chattering, bored children. Don’t get me wrong, as an arthouse film it is brilliant. If you go into it with that mentality, you’ll come out feeling like you’ve been taken on a profound tour of childhood that will take you back in (potentially) bad ways. But you won’t have fun. You won’t walk out humming a great tune and feeling like your life has been reaffirmed. You’re gonna walk out thinking about your own dejected, maladjusted childhood. Or that weird kid in your class who Max reminds you of. Or a brother or sister who acted the same way.
And that’s not the film they’re selling. It’s not the film people are expecting. People are ready to watch monsters joyously run through the forest with a little boy to the soundtrack of JUNO while feeling warm and fuzzy about being a kid. And while those moments are here, they are fleeting. What Jonze does, both brilliantly and frustratingly, is take the magical and over the course of two hours make it mundane. He seeks to strip every bit of magic out of the Wild Things and make them as patently uninteresting as a troubled bible study group.
Now, it can be argued that this is pretty much what the book is about and that Jonze simply added an extra layer of subtext to the original intention. But the book is 40 pages long, comprised of exactly 10 run-on sentences and in actuality only one of those sentences remains intact and relatively unchanged. There are a number of scenes that have been added that have nothing to do with the book not – not to mention those that were outright changed – so if someone were to ask “Couldn’t Jonze have added something interesting without compromising his vision of the theme,” the answer would be yes.
Instead, every conflict in this film is emotional and entirely banal. As a representation of a young boy’s psyche and the worries that trouble him, it is an achievement. But in the context of being a film outside of the arthouse circuit being marketed as a fun, adventure film? Absolute failure. There’s not a moment of adventure here. Not a moment of fantastic danger. Not an instance in which we feel our hero is in any kind of real jeopardy. Nothing that will bring audiences back again and again. This isn’t WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY or THE IRON GIANT or CORALINE or even WATERSHIP DOWN. This isn’t a transcendent family film that will become deeper and richer as you grow from child to adult. It is THE 400 BLOWS with monsters. It was never meant for families. It was meant for critics.
Lyrical in its poetry and beautiful in its melancholy, this will play strong to those going in with an understanding of what Jonze wants to show them. But anyone looking for a good time has signed on for the wrong boat ride to the worst possible island. Beautiful enough to see on the big screen, but not powerful or moving enough to recommend, I find myself very conflicted and foresee a film that will be lauded by critics and snubbed by the bored masses. But as the dust settles, I think I’m going to find myself with the masses on this one. I wanted to love it, I really, really did, but I was just too bored to.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.