Beasts of the Southern Wild took Sundance by storm last year, then swept through the festivals picking up over 30 awards and nominations. And now the story about young Hushpuppy and her life in the Bayou are nominated for four Oscars, including best picture. The film stars newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry, and tells the story of young Hushpuppy and her many struggles with her father and the world around her. Watch the trailer after the jump and then read my review.
The first thing you will notice when watching this movie, and one of the reasons it’s winning all of the awards, is how large of a movie it is. Even though the majority of the film is set in a small Bayou community called the Bathtub, the world is full of dangerous and exciting scenes for Hushpuppy to explore. For an indy film the sets, with the water and damaged homes, look like a big budget production. Director Benh Zeitiln, in his first feature, captures Hushpuppy’s world perfectly.
Little Quvenzhané Wallis is amazing as Hushpuppy and well deserving of her Oscar nomination. The adults around her are mean, and don’t really care about her. At age six, her character lives alone (at the beginning) and is expected to be completely independent. Wallis holds strong, acting tough when called upon, but still reminding the audience she is just a little girl who needs love.
There is a scene near the end that required Wallis to stand solemn in front of CGI animated animals. Obviously, these creatures were not there, but when you look at young Wallis’ face, you believe they are. That’s a difficult thing but she pulls it off perfectly. The fear in her face is an emotion that most actors have trouble replicating. I think the main reason Wallis has become the youngest best actress nominee has less to do with her speeches and more to do with scenes like this: where she quietly dominates the screen.
However, the themes of the movie completely escaped me. I have no clue why that happened but it did. The amazing story of a young girl and her father has a deeper meaning, and the beasts that show up have some important symbolic reason. But I don’t really know what that was. It would have ruined the mood of the movie if somehow they gave a candid explanation of the beasts, but even some extra subtle clues would have helped. I am eventually going to watch it again and I hope I come to understand the greater lessons this film offers. Because it is perfect in every other way.
Everyone should watch Beasts of the Southern Wild before the Oscars. It’s nominated four times and has potential to launch the careers of both young Wallis and director Benh Zeitiln. For an indy film, you will be surprised with the size of the scenes and the power of the acting. It is close to flawless and I highly recommend it.