Friday, October 23, 2009
Okay, Dave Eggers Has Had His Cinematic Moment, Now I Would Like Mine
Kim Jong Il and I made some time in our stressed out schedules last night to catch "Where the Wild Things Are" at the monumentally depressing theater in Towson. We arrived early, Kim was lavished with free chemical butter-laden popcorn by a toadying concession stand worker - who took the liberty of brushing her forearm many times against the great one's khaki jacket - and since we were early (conversation was lacking at the Five Guys where the lettuce lay limp like a docile American factory worker) we were then treated with fifteen minutes of brain numbing collegiate white pretend thug pseudo lifestyle propaganda. Commander Kim said it was all very unconvincing and unsuccessful as he lightly brushed some of the yellowish butter-like concoction across his healthy vibrant Elvis-like coif.
What came next, partially brought to life by the pen of Dave Eggers, was interesting, but slightly perplexing. The movie starts with great dynamics, really catching - for me - the exhilarating slightly out of control energy of being a kid left on his/her own. After a criminally short period of time sharing the screen with Catherine Keener, little Max boards a sailboat and floats to Bummer Island. It's a visceral, exploding world of sudden violence and screaming, but also one where many furry beasts with pleasingly growly voice can all jump into a warm pile and drift off together.
I have to confess I'm not a religious devotee of Sendak. I really like his drawings, but didn't grow up with them and they didn't speak to me as a semi-adult or adult except as well done cute children's art, so I didn't come into the movie judging it against the classic book. The film kept me engaged, if not glued to my sticky seat, but it gave me a feeling I hadn't had since college days, the feeling of having indulged in the wrong drugs with the wrong crowd. Kind of like Mr. Show's parody of H.R. Puffenstuff/Lidsville.
I see Max's trip to the Island as his immersion in his unconscious and his grappling with emotions beyond his learning or understanding and I salute the director and writer for not taking an easy, cushy, pat way out. It's a movie that could easily have just gone completely safe and cute and raked in millions. And it's got me thinking about it the next day, which in this, once again for me, horrible horrible year for movies, that's a rarity. But it still seems like kind of a nice deranged movie for adults who have survived childhood, not necessarily a movie that would be entertaining or instructive or comforting for anyone under 15. In fact, I think a nice alternate ending would be Max leaves the Island and then wakes up in a mental institution as an adult. But that's just my preference.
The final shot of Catherine and Max gazing into each other's eyes was sublime, though and the actor's facial expression seemed wise way beyond his years.
Needless to say, I liked the movie far more than Commandant Kim and our Greco-Roman style wrestling in the Power Room never got off the ground. He went back to watching Gone With the Wind and I read the new Harper's.
Oh yes, I almost forgot. I am no where near as famous a writer as Eggers - in fact I'm not famous at all, other than being able to perhaps draw ten people to a Baltimore poetry reading - but if I were to get my chance to write a children's film it would be a version of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.