Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 23 October 2009
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Where the Wild Things Are
Maurice Sendak’s 1963 children’s classic comes to life in the innovative hands of director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), taking the viewer into a young boy’s vision of a turbulent paradise. That is, until the boy realizes that he has not escaped the problems he left behind.
Max (Max Records) lives at home with his divorced mother (Catherine Keener) and older sister, Claire (Pepita Emmerichs). He dresses up as a wolf and roughhouses with the family dog. He builds snow forts and sobs when one is destroyed in a snowball fight that he started with a group of his sister’s friends. Max is very sensitive when not being a wolf.
At least his mother gives him her full attention – when she’s around. Max dictates stories to her from his fertile imagination, and she types them into her computer. Max and his mother are very close.
Mom has a boyfriend (Mark Ruffalo) over for dinner and Max, in full wolf regalia, acts out in a rage even he doesn’t fully understand, bolting from the house with his frantic mother in pursuit. He escapes by boat to an island populated by large, volatile creatures that live together in a tribal manner. They are not immune to dysfunction and have anger management, self-esteem, and jealousy issues. There is an unspoken sexual tension between two of them that is apparent only to adult viewers. Max becomes their king after convincing them not to eat him.
He befriends Carol (James Gandolfini, voice) a huge, furry, horned creature who is full of rage and likes to destroy things when he’s not being delightfully confused and forlorn. Carol is angry and hurt that longtime friend (and maybe more, in Carol’s mind) K.W. (Lauren Ambrose) has taken up with two owls, Bob and Terry, that she has to knock out of the sky with rocks to summon. The rest of this eccentric “tribe” includes Ira, Judith, Alexander, and Douglas, all fancifully furry and outsized, voiced by the likes of Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’Hara, Paul Dano and Chris Cooper.
“Wild” characters look like puppets, but are inhabited by actors with a bit of CGI help for facial expressions. They tower over their tiny king, clad only in his wolf suit and a blustery sense of power. Judith is boisterous and can be mean. Ira is humble and kind. Douglas and Alexander are voices of reason. K.W, is a free spirit and Carol, it seems, got custody of all the anger.
As king, Max’s charge is to make and keep everyone happy. As a child, he thinks it will be easy, but soon finds out that unrest, dysfunction and melancholy have followed him from the grownup world to the island he now rules. Returning home, inevitable in any childhood adventure, brings a new appreciation of his human relationships; his mother zeroes in on her son with the loving, ferocious gaze of all-consuming devotion. Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of Max, whether to eat him literally or devour him with love.
Max Records handles a magical role with a natural quality that suits both king and boy. Catherine Keener is skillful at conveying her emotions with body language and steady gazes that can take the place of pages of explanatory dialogue. James Gandolfini gives the frustrated Carol a poignancy that juxtaposes all of the destructive rage he can’t control.
Director Spike Jonze and first-time screenwriter Dave Eggers have had to expand upon and extrapolate Sendak’s picture book, and have taken the tale into the psychological, while maintaining the whimsical (inner wars as well as small external quarrels, abandonment issues, aggression, fear and loneliness). And this is just what Max escapes TO instead of from.
The astounding cinematography transports the viewer from rain jungle to desert dunes all on one tiny island of color and magic. Visuals recreate Sendak’s illustrations so precisely that this reviewer recognized the story from the first creature sighting in the trailer. A tribal/rock soundtrack from Karen O and the Kids’ adds to the sense of wildness and adventure.
Jonze’s film illustrates, literally, that the turbulent, contradictory emotions of a child, whether covered in fur or skin, just may be the wildest things of all.