Directed by: Benh Zeitlin || Produced by: Dan Janvey, Josh Penn, Michael Gottwald
Screenplay by: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin || Starring: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Philip Lawrence, Gina Montana
Music by: Dan Romer, Benh Zeitlin || Cinematography: Ben Richardson || Editing by: Crockett Doob, Affonso Gonclaves || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 93 minutes
Easily the most appetizing of 2012’s Best Picture nominees, what with its abundance of shellfish and fried gator, Beasts of the Southern Wild (BSW) accomplishes many things other than its scrumptious Cajun cuisine, including and especially its young lead actress, Quvenzhané Wallis, as well as its fantastic special FX. Its narrative isn’t much more than a standard coming-of-age tale, but it has plenty of heart, spunk, and personality to spare.
Most of the film’s strengths lie in Wallis’ characterization and her relationship with her father (Dwight Henry), which is the heart of the story. They have great chemistry and the conclusion to their familial journey is nothing if not emotional.
Complaints could be made that Wallis’ point-of-view narrative limits the scope and clarity of the the film, and how numerous subsequent plot-devices are vague or poorly explained to the audience. That being said, much of BSW’s charm is its unorthodox perspective and dream-like tone. The wandering camerawork and intimate, soft-lit close-ups mirror Wallis’ small stature and budding personal growth. She’s innocent, yet ambitious, like Benh Zeitlin’s directorial style. Whether this cinematographic style works for you may depend on your preference for clear, concise narratives versus more emotional, thematic, character-driven pieces.
The visuals are strong as well. The beautiful, lush Southern scenery, colorful fireworks, and the fearsome titular beasts add plenty of diverse eye-candy; the symbolism behind these eponymous creatures is smart, even if their description is somewhat vague around the edges.
BSW’s lack of focus affects its narrative clarity, yet its characters, setting, special FX, and thematic intelligence underscore a powerful and unique cinematic experience. Wallis is a gem in the rough, while her supporting cast and Zeitlin’s direction build an unforgettable world around her.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Wallis’ exuberance and spunk bring valuable personality to the film. Dwight Henry’s performance is a good compliment. Visually speaking, Beasts is sublime. Everything from the monstrous Aurochs to the Louisiana bayous look gorgeous.
— However… Wallis’ arc is minimal at best, and her point-of-view makes certain plot-points unclear.
? Mmmmmm, gumbo… I want more Cajun food right now.