Sunday, October 18, 2009

REVIEW: Where the Wild Things Are

Sometimes even a good movie can be a bit of a disappointment. Such is the case with Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are.

At times, the movie soars - but only at times. A movie based on such a beloved book and a movie made by this much talent should soar all the time. The movie has too many lulls, and they keep it from being the classic it should have been - but there are enough high points to make it well worth seeing.

I was especially curious to see how Jonze would handle his first feature not penned by Charlie Kaufman, he of the labyrinthine imagination who wrote Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, both directed by Jonze. While the plot of Where the Wild Things Are is much simpler and more streamlined, all three movies share something in common - they deeply understand the mind of the misfit, and Max, the hero of Where the Wild Things Are, is one of the great misfits.

The movie's early scenes are the best as we meet Max (Max Records), a lonely little boy with an active mind. He's a rambunctious but lonely, well-meaning boy who wishes someone understood him. He gets some understanding from his loving mother (Catherine Keener), but when even she rails against him, that sends him over the edge and into a place where - well, you know what the title is.

Jonze's restless camera made me feel Max's alienation and isolation, and Jonze gets a soulful performance from Records, who runs the gamut of intense childhood emotions, ranging from the jubilant freedom of a game of war to the paralyzing fear of being left alone. Few movies understand what it's like to be a kid better than this one does.

And yet, when it gets to the wild things, the movie loses momentum. Aside from Max's best friend Carol (voiced by James Gandolfini), the screenplay by Jonze and Dave Eggers never develops the other wild things enough. I wanted to know more about these crazy other creatures running around, but got personalities that were sketchy at best.

Although Jonze directs with great visual energy, his movies tend to lack emotional warmth. As brilliant as Malkovich and Adaptation often were, I  didn't feel for the characters much - a problem I did not feel in the Kaufman-penned Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by Michel Gondry. Jonze's emotional detachment hinders this movie to a degree. While Jonze does a great job of putting the viewer in Max's head, he doesn't do enough to establish a sense of wonder or fear. Fantasy worlds in movies should be places you never want to leave, or places you're desperate to get away from, or maybe even both at the same time. A few fleeting moments aside, I felt neither fear nor wonder in the world of the wild things.

Am I glad I saw Where the Wild Things Are? Most certainly. But is it a movie I'll want to revisit again and again? Probably not. I wanted it to be even wilder.


No comments: