Where the Wild Things Are
I’ve been stewing over my review of Where the Wild Things Are for a full seven days now. Mostly I’m baffled at how much I enjoyed it, and how well it was done. The book, I’m told, was one of my favorites growing up. Still, I felt no allegiance to the film, and when everyone was blown away by the first trailer, I just didn’t get it. Not to mention, it’s hard to get pumped about James Gandolfini as the voice of Carol, the main wild thing.
The two names attached to the film that required a viewing are, of course, Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich) and Dave Eggers (Away We Go, You Shall Know Our Velocity). It turns out that I put this blind faith in the right hands. Jonze had turned the beloved children’s book by Maurice Sendak and made it into an ethereal, visceral cinematic experience.
Max (Max Records) is an imaginative, rambunctious boy who’s world is shifting at it’s very foundation when his parents get divorced and his mom (Catherine Keener) starts dating someone again (Mark Ruffalo). Fighting to find his place he acts out and extremely sensitive, like most little boys would be. One night, after a squabble with his mom, Max runs away, finds a small boat, which he boards and rides until he gets to the place where the wild things are.
Once he gets there, he meets a motley group of friends: Carol (James Gandolfini), Alexander (Paul Dano), Judith (Catherine O’Hara), Ira (Forest Whitaker), KW (Lauren Ambrose), and a few others. Like Max, the group finds themselves in a state of change. The group dynamics are shifting, and no one is really happy about it. Before the eat Max, he convinces them that he’s a king and can solve all their problems. Desperate for a leader to fix them, they all play along.
The feel of the film is so perfectly and beautifully lachrymose, it’s impossible not to get sucked into Max’s imagination. The script (which Eggers had a monumental task of taking the short children’s story to a feature-length film) wasn’t pretentious or obtrusive, it was charmingly hilarious and, when it needed to be, poignant and touching. Records is a fantastic actor. I can’t imagine any other child actor working today that could have outdone him in this performance. While all the wild things were great, Lauren Ambrose really managed to steal the show with her voice acting.
Cinematographer Lance Acord (Marie Antoinette, Lost in Translation) shows off his tremendous talent of framing shots and locations to create a truly unique and affecting world that perfectly contrasts all the emotions Max and his friends could possibly be struggling with. What everyone is saying is true: it’s darker than the book, and may not be perfect for small children, but this is a masterpiece of film.