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How Overrated is "Beasts of the Southern Wild"?

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by Anthony Kaufman
January 31, 2012 10:49 AM
10 Comments
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One of the best films to play at Sundance in two decades? I don't think so. Admittedly, I'm no Manohla Dargis, who made such a pronounced vote of confidence for the rough-and-tumble fantastical indie feature, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," which was a triple threat at this year's Sundance, winning the Grand Jury Prize, a Fox Searchlight deal, and was ranked the number one film of the fest by many critics. Consider this the beginning of the backlash.

Now I'm not someone who likes to put down ambitious indie cinema made with an original and idiosyncratic vision. I liked "Beasts of the Southern Wild," calling it "an imaginative and bold vision, filled with plenty of memorable images" in my Screen review. But I didn't love it. And like last year's Grand Jury Prize winner "Like Crazy," I'm somewhat confounded by the group-think-like passion that has emerged for the film since before it even showed. At the world premiere, there was so much buzz and excitement at the Eccles theater that it seemed like the movie had already won over the audience before it even started. Will everyone's love for the film subside a bit when they come down from the high-altitudes of Park City? I hope so.

Because if "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is going to find an audience during its release, I don't think it's going to be doing the film any favors if it's hyped. There's a lot of good things about the film, but I also found a number of holes. My biggest criticism was this: "Zeitlin has created a fully imagined fantasy world, but he rarely allows the viewer to emotionally inhabit it," as I wrote.

While the story’s heart lies in the relationship between the expressive adorable little star Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her father (Dwight Henry), I felt the characters—and their setting—remain too much at a distance. Now I know there were plenty of Sundance viewers who felt a stronger emotional connection to the material than I, but I can't discount my own experience of the film. There's a lot to look at, for sure, but narratively, it's wild and woolly, not unlike some Terry Gilliam flight of fancy, and I just don't believe it coheres. Come on, did you all really buy the bit with the explosives stuffed in the crocodile?

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10 Comments

  • MW | February 26, 2013 10:56 PMReply

    After finally getting around to watching this, all I have to say is that it robbed End Of Watch for a Best Picture nom and Affleck of a Director nom. How was that better than The Hobbit or even Bernie?

  • yuck | February 3, 2013 12:46 AMReply

    Sundance is becoming a BRAND. Movies come out of the lab, pushed into the festival, and hyped to see a monetary reward. The story behind the film or the actors in it more important than the quality of the film.

  • bari | January 25, 2013 1:41 AMReply

    The trailer was captivating. The movie less so. I agree that it wasn't as emotionally engaging as such an imaginative story could have been. A big part of that is because we never got beyond a superficial treatment of the other characters who were fresh off the "Bayou-hillbilly" assembly line with uniformly grimy, sweaty, toothless, drunk and foul mouthed traits. It was almost numbing. A deeper look at maybe the father and one other important character could have generated more sympathy for their plight and that would have provided more emotional connection for the audience.

  • Gunnar | January 19, 2013 11:49 AMReply

    Actually, it is an alligator gar and they get that big routinely and can be caught by anglers. They're endangered in many areas so are often released after a photo. They can get a lot bigger: 12 ft. long and several hundred pounds (though those giants are not as common as in the past).

  • Frank | July 25, 2012 9:47 AMReply

    I'm so sick and tired of this indie-cred bull****. It's the only thing that sustains the independent film industry at this point. If it weren't for that, people would have wised up and started making movies because they enjoy them. People seem to think Hollywood is full of hypocrites, and while that may be the case, I fail to see how the so called "independent" arena is different. It's a farce. Everyone goes around worrying about what other people think of the movie instead of giving honest reviews. At least 3/4 of all the reviews I see (And I see a lot of them, sine I'm an intern for the Miami Film Festival and have to write about them) can be turned into another just by copy and pasting and using a thesaurus. As if they're afraid that once they fall off the bandwagon, they'll never get back on. It's absolutely surreal what gets passed off as "art" these days. (This movie notwithstanding, I haven't seen it)

    As for the crocodile, maybe it was a reference to Peter Pan? The crocodile with the clock in its belly? People associate ticking with explosives, usually, you know.

    Just saying.

  • J.P. | July 10, 2012 11:39 AMReply

    I think the creativity of the film is excellent. However, we don't need to bash one another for our casting of opinions. The majority can see the project as a marvelous piece of work. That is enough to project that perhaps the film may receive plenty of audience support. I like the concept of explosives being in the, "reptile/fish", or whatever the animal is meant to be.

  • hater of haters | February 8, 2012 9:57 PMReply

    it's an alligator garfish.

  • don | February 5, 2012 11:04 PMReply

    Yeah. That's not a crocodile. A more apt title for this piece: "Hater Hates on Movie Everyone Else Likes"

  • Pauline Kael | February 5, 2012 4:03 PMReply

    That's not a crocodile, douchebag.

  • Craig | January 16, 2013 2:07 PM

    Actually Pauline who so maturely calls someone a "douchebag", its not an alligator garfish either.

    It's simply a prop, Garfish do NOT get that big without being caught at some point period. You would have to be from there to understand that. That would be a 50 year or better catch.

    Regarding the movie - terribly overrated as the author writes. The phenom getting an Oscar nomination is also absurd. Her efforts, fine for a 6 year old in a 2nd grade Christmas play, were really quite pedestrian at best. There are countless kids that are cute by the fact they are 6 who could have played that part just as well. Her lines are stilted - read like reading in class - and Hollywood is stepping over themselves heaping praise? Really?

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