A toothed-up Hugh Jackman bellowing lines from Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, while in dated pirate garb, somehow made, for better and worse, a very memorable Pan. Joe Wright’s prequel-ish adaptation of the children’s classic was bombastic at least, misguided and awfully indulgent at most, but still sticks with me in ways that other, more conventional movies, don’t and never will.
It’s the Jupiter Ascending effect, really. It’s the unchecked creativity of it all.
Just this past week, a trailer for the next Benh Zeitlin joint - Wendy - dropped, and almost immediately, there was a storm of criticisms levied online. Below are two of my favorites:
Indeed, Wendy appears to be a rehash of that Beasts of the Southern Wild style. Appears, of course.
This appearance of redundancy is “strong”, but is it obnoxious?
I don’t believe that a movie being pretentious is necessarily a qualifier for the trash heap. Yes, when someone or something speaks over our heads, as if from a mountain top to us lowly peasants, the message is delivered with an edge of presumption and rudeness. But what of the message? Was it right? Righteous?
I often think back to Francis Ford Coppola being interviewed on the set of Apocalypse Now about completing his vision for the story, and how he said that when a film doesn’t live up to itself by the end, when it doesn’t resolve, it’s unforgivable (excuse my paraphrasing).
This is why we have critics. To debate with each other, to express observations to the world, to comb over every shot and frame. Whether or not Benh’s Beasts of the Southern Wild “stuck its landing” (so to speak) will vary from person to person. No film is universally praised - no matter what Rotten Tomatoes may have us believe.
Beasts got me at a somewhat difficult time, when a family member was in the hospital recovering from surgery. The relationship between father and daughter in the movie, from him looking after her to her feeding him fried fish on his death-bed, was all particularly moving. Sure, we can argue over the Hurricane Katrina-lite plot, and the fact that the filmmaker is not from the area (a sore spot for some local writers) but then we would miss out on so much else being done.
Unity in community. Maturity through journey. Courage over fear. There’s more to The Bathtub than just fireworks and quirks.
Is it too heavy on magical realism? Are Benh’s thoughts on the region lofty to the point of eye-rolling? Maybe. Was Beasts a complete and fully realized vision, for better and worse? Within that Jupiter Ascending effect, that “unchecked” quality shared by misfits aplenty, Benh ranked, even with just this one feature, as an imagination to watch out for.
Like Pan, only less panned.
Wendy looks bombastic. Wendy might tread familiar themes. We’ll only “know” once it releases next year. Keep indulging. Dig deep, dig often, and rise to your self-made legend, especially when wrong yet righteous.
Go for broke. Go for Coppola.