Monday, May 17, 2010


Directed by Spike Jonze, Starring Max Records, James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker & Catherine Keener

We often look back on our childhoods with great fondness.  In hindsight they feel like simpler times.  In their present, however, they can often be a relentless confusion of new emotions.  

Such is the case for young Max, who is at that age where a little attention is worth its weight in gold.  How unfortunate for him that his sister is a teenager and his single mother has a new boyfriend.  We are told little to nothing about the missing father, but can infer from Max's behavior and his mothers worried looks that things went about as smoothly as they ever can in that situation. 

One evening, Max pushes himself and his mother to their respective limits.  The incident sends Max running out into the night and off to a fantasy world inhabited by the wild things, who are exactly the kind of handful their name implies.  Upon meeting Max they have a lengthy debate about whether or not they should eat him or make him king.  Lucky for Max they decide to go with the latter, although not by a wide margin.

Maurice Sendek's book is a classic.  It stands as a shining example of the power of simplicity, its illustrations giving weight to its mere ten sentences.  But how does one make a film based on a book like this?  Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers have chosen the only path I believe possible; they followed it in spirit.  And while all of the wild things will certainly be familiar to fans of the book, this is hardly a children's story. 

Truth be told, it is a pretty melancholy film.  These wild things are all id, and soon Max finds himself stretched pretty thin while trying to maintain their delicate temperaments.  Most notably, there is Carol (James Gandolfini), who is a bundle of unchecked aggression and neediness.  Not surprisingly, Max immediately gravitates towards him.  And here is where I must mention Max Records performance.

This kid has got something figured out.  Here is a role that requires a difficult balance of subtlety and child-like energy, and Max Records hits the mark all the way.  Take for example the aforementioned blow out between Max and his mother.  There is a nice moment between the two of them before he storms off to his fantasy world.  It is that moment when both mother and child realize they have gone too far.  Catherine Keener (who plays his mother) is always reliable, but the look on Max's face is what really drives that moment home.

People are most certainly going to have trouble with this one.  Thematically, it is about as literal a translation as one could hope for.  Still, some will not be satisfied.  The book manages its heavy theme in a relatively light hearted manner, but this is largely due to its length, and as previously stated this is a pretty melancholy film.  Perhaps it could have been a bit more playful and a little less morose?  Yes, I suppose that would have been nice.  Would that have made for a more honest film?  I don't think so.  At least not by a wide margin.


No comments:

Post a Comment