The film version of Maurice Sendak’s beloved children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are, has been in theaters for almost a month now. This means that most of you reading this have already seen the film if you wanted to to begin with, and also that I am proving myself to be one of the tardiest reviewers on Earth.
To begin with, I love Spike Jonze. As far as his feature film directorial work I can say that Being John Malkovich and Adaptation are two of the most original, thought provoking works in recent years. Even though it has been seven years since Adaptation hit the screen, Jonze has kept busy directing music videos and other projects, including a documentary about Sendak. So the guy is on top of his game. He brings an immediate authenticity even before stepping into the theaters, because this is a Spike Jonze film, and this guy makes amazing films.
Secondly, the subject matter, the book itself, is popular like no other children’s book seems to be popular. For the outcast child, Where the Wild Things Are is a comfort and an inspiration. For everyone else, it’s a damn finely drawn and written thing. It’s images are indelible. Everyone knows what this book looks like, even if it’s been twenty five years since you saw it.
I mean, look at these guys? Who wouldn’t want to party with them? Ever since I was small, I have wanted to see the Wild Things in action. So why was the Wild Things film so tame?
The film begins with Max, the crazy kid in the wolf suit. Cat suit? Some kind of Wendigo perhaps? Either way, he’s beating the shit outta that dog in the opening titles. We follow Max around at his level, low to the ground, around parked cars and in snow huts. We see his world though his eyes, and its refreshing to be rooting for the kid instead of wishing their parents had some discipline.
Seriously, I usually hate kids just like Max in the grocery store or at the bank, but I don’t hate Max. I can understand and sympathize, hell I was rooting for him. “Bite her, yeah! Bite your mom! You’re a wild thing! Now run for it! Yeah! Get on the boat, it’s your only hope. Ride Max, ride like the wind. Yay! Max made it, let’s party with the Wild Things!”
There’s only a few problems with this party. When Max sneaks up on these Wild Things, they’re having a discussion. And not a “let’s get wild!” kind of discussion. More of a “I’m mad at her. She’s a meany.” kind of discussion. So they’re not really being wild so much as wildy emotional.
Our main Thing, who is named Carol for some reason, is throwing a fit. This fit is voiced by James Gandolfini, a master thespian and angry fit thrower. I swear, Tony Soprano is TV’s biggest baby. But I digress.
The other Things also have regular (i.e. not wild) names like Alexander, and celebrity voices like Forrest Whitaker to Paul Dano, but these voices come out too much like people. Adult paople. Actors in fact. Reading dialogue as they jump around foam sets in their workout clothes. Yes, the actors playing the Wild Things actually moved around a set while lending their voices, but this only means that they come across as winded and fatigued. You can hear Gandolfini panting between practically every line, desperately trying to keep up with Max on set.
And the problem in this film lies in the relationship between Max and the Things. They ask too much. They fight too much. The Things are too easily wounded. Too easily enraged or depressed. They all act like teenagers!
Hear me out. Max is a kid. He wants to party. The Things are a teenage clique. They want to be popular. They want their leader, Max, to be their best friend. They shit talk, they betray and insult, and injure each other with too much malice. There are boyfriends and girlfriends among the Wild Things, there are toadies and unpopular pipsqueaks that no one is sure who keeps inviting to the party. Basically, these Things are not wild. They’re emo. They’re fucking sad is what they are.
Max actually needs to escape from the island, like the real world he ran away from an hour and a half ago. Only this time, he might get eaten if he doesn’t. And then there’s the eventual return and reconcilliation with mom and then Max shares a look like he, you know, he grew up just a little, able to appreciate his human parent all the more after the dramatic, confusing, and all together unwild expereince that was Where the Wild Things Are.
So what did I think? Meh, it was alright. I can’t wait for Spike’s next movie, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Quick Top 5
The top five other movies with the word “Wild” in it.
5. Into the Wild – This is the movie that inspired the list. I watched this film the day after Where the Wild Things Are, and was like, “wow, how many movies do you see with the word wild in it? And I just watched two in a row! I wonder what other movies have the word wild in it???”
4. The River Wild – A staple of TNT’s afternoon cable programming for almost ten years, this movie is merely ok, but it does have Meryl Streep in a kick ass role, and it’s the only movie with Kevin Bacon to make the list (Sorry Wild Things, but there’s just not enough room).
3. Wild Strawberries – The artsy film on the list, this is a classic from Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman. The dream sequence alone is one of the most brilliant things ever put to film. About an old man facing death and the fact that he’s never loved anybody. It’s not a happy picture.
2. Wild at Heart – One of David Lynch’s great love stories, this film is all entertainment. It’s bizarre, creepy, unforgettable. It also has Nick Cage and Laura Dern and Willem Defoe, each in some of their best roles ever. A thouroughly awesome movie for one end to the other.
1. The Wild Bunch – On my short list for greatest film ever, The Wild Bunch redefined violence in cinema. It also redefined the western, the anti hero, the use of editing, sound effects, basically everything. If you’re at all interested in the history of film, this is a must see. It’s a landmark. I like it a lot.