Surrealism alive and kicking in Ruby Sparks (review) and Beasts of the Southern Wild (review)


Expectations were high when I went to see Beasts of the Southern Wild yet unfortunately I came out of the cinema feeling extremely cheated. The appeal in going to watch such a film lay in the fact that this year I had doused myself in the viewing experience of the American mainstream and thought that watching something more arty would broaden my palette. The subject matter also held much attraction, because a story about a black southern girl and her father living and surviving in post-Katrina Louisiana is not a story that is usually green lit by the big studio bosses. Then there were the critics with their ever increasing hyperbole and five star thumbs up (just so they could get their name on the Beasts of the Southern Wild poster) that made me think to give it a chance. This is all part of one big con.

Don’t think from what I have said in the latter paragraph that Beasts of the Southern Wild is a shit movie. There is equally much to like about the film than there is to not to. I will go with the positives first. The cinematography is amazing. Shot on 16mm, the grainy mis en scene captures the spirit of time and place evocatively; close ups are managed with a keen eye for human emotions and the Louisiana landscape is filmed with lyrical precision that bellies the harsh climate that the characters have to endure.

The flaw of the film lies with the muddled message it is trying to convey. The abandonment and longing for her estranged mother lies at the heart of the movie parallel to the loving but fiery relationship with her stubborn father. How this manifests itself into a significant meaning within the film as whole and the hurricane that taunts their community remains unclear. A wild imagination typical of children lends itself to surreal images of oversized-type buffalos (the beasts mentioned in the title) that Hushpuppy keeps referring to.

The message of the film which I am still trying to ascertain has something to do with environmentalism and respecting nature. What it seems like the film is trying to do is preach a message about nature in such a way that it is entirely baffling. This is something that Terrence Malick is adept at achieving in his films, and this one is not quite there.Giving the voiceover narration to such a young child (Hushpuppy) means that we are given a first point of view through her eyes. But what can a six year old tell us about the way we mistreat the world? A film like Truffaut’s the 400 Blows  does a better job of getting inside the mind of a youngster.

Still Quvenzhané Wallis, the young girl that plays Hushpuppy is a revelation it is her performance that carries the movie and that has manipulated people into giving Beasts of the Southern Wild all its accolades. Coming out of the movie theatre I heard a middle-aged lady say that she would like to ‘adopt that little colored girl’.




For the past ten years or so romantic comedies have been given a rough ride by film critics and feminists and to be fair they have a point. Perhaps the last great rom com was the Andy Kauffman scripted and Gondry directed surrealist romance Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and this film shares many similarities with it. The only thing is, is that while Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, felt like an existential Kafkaesque tearjerker, this film feels like a 1980’s situation-fantasy-film.

With the tagline ‘from the makers of Little Miss Sunshine’ as it’s selling point; the 2006 highly overrated sleeper hit, expectations were not high as I found some of the quirky humour from the latter film a little bit jarring. True to form this quirkily annoying humour continued and manifested itself through Paul Dano, who before this film I thought was a terrific actor. The surrounding characters bar Elliot Gould’s psychiatrist, fail to alleviate the film from its mediocre first act and extra light humour. Dano’s brother seems like a character out of an Apatow movie but less fleshed out, Steve Coogan does only what he is capable of by giving us an Alan Partridge impersonation, while a trip to see Dano’s mother (Annette Benning) and her boyfriend (Antonio Banderas) feels like we are in Meet the Fockers territory.

The only consistently engaging character came from Zoë Kaplan’s Ruby Sparks, the role she had written for herself to star with her off screen partner Mr Dano. Executing the premise of a love that you have fantasised in your dreams but has become real was not done particularly well. The revelation and the possibility of taking advantage of the situation at first, feels like squeezing comedy from a lemon. Where the film excels is when it’s not trying to be funny and this is when we get a real insight into the characters personalities. This occurs more so into the final act of the film. Where the honey moon period is finished and Dano’s Calvin Weir-Fields has to work harder on the relationship. interesting themes are explored further such as the moral and ethical rules of this fantasy scenario so when we come to the end it is rather unexpected and well thought out by screenwriter Kaplan.

The idea was a really good one if not borrowing heavily from Woody Allen and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in terms of infatuation, dilemma and Ruby Sparks red hair and indicative moniker. Really this is a film of two halves where it bores at the beginning but picks up speed and purpose towards the latter half of the movie. Kaplan’s script is a reasonably good one and there is enough promise in it to foresee that she will write better ones in the future. Also being the granddaughter of the amazing but ‘snitch’ director Elia Kazan means that talent is in her DNA. I still maintain that Dano is a terrific actor; he is just not a comic one.





  1. This movie sounds incredibly charming and I haven’t really talked to many people that have actually seen it. The plot intrigued me from the first time I heard about the movie but I never got to see it. When I watched the trailer for the movie I was intrigued all over again and I added it to my Blockbuster @ Home queue. The movie should be here in a day or two via mail and I work at DISH so I’m pretty familiar with Blockbuster. It’s really convenient. The story sounds like ever person’s wish: to be able to make a person in the image you want, for them to be perfect so you can fall in love. Loving someone isn’t perfect and it’s also not easy so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    1. i loved the idea as well but felt that it was covering eternal sunshine territory without added anything new to it. without giving too much away it was extremely quirky and as i said in the review the begginning was quirkyly boring. it redeemed itself in the end, and zoe kaplan was brilliant.

      i hope you enjoy it though

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