Beasts of the Southern Wild 2½/4 … a movie review

September 13, 2012 by James Berardinelli - Reelviews
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Contained within Beasts of the Southern Wild are moments of fragile, understated magic that emphasize the relationship that exists even between the most neglectful, irresponsible fathers and their daughters…writes James Berardinelli.

The problem with Beasts of the Southern Wild is that, like The Tree of Life, it seeks to integrate its small, very personal story into a much larger, more ambitious tapestry. First time director Benh Zeitlin may not lack vision, but he lacks Terrence Malick’s ability to pull off such a difficult task. The movie comes across as a collection of competing themes and ideas that collide more often than complement one another and never fully gel. It can be argued that Beasts of the Southern Wild is never uninteresting, but it’s also never fully satisfying or successful. One is left wondering how much is intended to be concrete and how much is an allegorical fairy tale.

At its core, Beast of the Southern Wild is a two-character story. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) is a six-year old girl who lives with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), in the wilds of the Gulf Coast region. They squat in ramshackle, make-shift “houses” with tin roofs and grounded boats ready to float when a storm comes and the water rises. The “Bathtub,” as the below-sea level marshlands are called, are walled off from civilization by a levee. The small community of men and women inhabiting the Bathtub are left to their own devices. For children like Hushpuppy, that means running wild. For men like Wink, it means drinking. He is ill-suited to be raising a daughter on his own, but his wife has run off and he has no choice. The lesson he tries the hardest to impart to Hushpuppy is self-sufficiency and, in teaching it, he can be a harsh taskmaster.


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