Thursday, October 22, 2009
Rants on Where the Wild Things Are
Before we get started, let's get one thing straight: I'm probably one of the few people around who has no childhood connection to Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are. I'm pretty sure I read it once when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade, but I couldn't tell you a damn thing that happened in it. So, unlike a lot of other people who practically came in their pants with the first glimpse of a single promotional still, I wasn't as emotionally invested in Spike Jonze's adaptation. And that's probably a good thing because I would have been even more disappointed in this film than I already am. For a film with so much advance buzz and built-in anticipation, it's disheartening to see what a misguided and head-scratchingly odd film Where the Wild Things Are turned out to be.
The first major problem with Where the Wild Things Are is its presentation of Max as a misunderstood, ignored, almost tragic, figure when in fact he is actually nothing more than a spoiled brat. Constantly, Jonze uses the narrative to show us just how rough Max has it--his sister ignores him, his mother scolds him for trashing his sister's room, no one pays attention to him--but he truly doesn't have it that bad. His mother (the fabulously luminous Catherine Keener) pours lavish amounts of attention and affection on him after his sister rejects him in favor of her friends and even takes a break from her deadline-approaching work to listen to his dumb (most likely metaphoric) story about a shunned vampire. But, as soon as she (appropriately) yells at Max for trashing his sister's room or interrupting her date with an ADHD-induced temper tantrum, Jonze tries to make us feel sorry for this poor misfit. Not today, Spike. I'm sorry, but I just can't feel anything but bitterness and hatred for such a holy terror as Max. If I had bitten my mother, she would have slapped me so hard I would still be feeling it now. All that happens to Max is his mother asks him, "What did you do that for?" before he runs out the front door like he had just been beaten Joan Crawford-style. The little bastard got off easy so I can't buy Jonze's repeated attempts to make us pity Max like he's one of the slum kids in Slumdog Millionaire.
Once Max gets to the island where the wild things truly are, a whole new set of problems arise. Although gorgeously shot by Lance Acord, the script flies completely off the deep end and loses any sense of structure or motivation that was present in the opening. The film truly goes from "Let's go be wild!" to "Let's sleep in a big pile!" to "Let's build a big house!" to "Let's get in a mud fight!" and it makes no bloody sense. But, you argue, it's all takes place in the the imagination of a child and it doesn't have to make sense. Okay, but what exactly makes it appropriate here and horribly, horribly wrong in a film like the Lindsay Lohan bomb I Know Who Killed Me, which, it has been proposed, actually takes place in the head of Lohan's character as she is being massacred and that's why it's so off-the-rails crazy? Just because Spike Jonze, our Lord and Saviour, is directing it? Not buying it. And then there's that awful, completely spaced-out dialogue that you definitely need to be high to understand or even enjoy. The only monster who is able to make any sense out of the nonsensical dialogue (and even manages to have fun in the process) is Catherine O'Hara and her bitchy and eternally distrusting Judith.
If it sounds like I completely hated Where the Wild Things Are, I didn't. I'm just sick of people praising this film for everything it's not. If you're looking for a real film about misunderstood youth, look no further than Truffaut's The 400 Blows. That film could eat Where the Wild Things Are and its $100 million budget for breakfast. C