Beasts of the Southern Wild is the perfect example of how to make a movie in this new post recession world. Take a great script, make it for a price and then let the movie stand on its merits. And yes, the awards and great reviews it has received since the premiere at Sundance earlier this year are all right — this is one seriously spectacular and special film. Run, don’t walk to the theatre to see it.
The film tells the story of 6-year-old Hushpuppy — played by Quvenzhané Wallis, a girl who had never acted before – and the people who live with her and her dad in the Bathtub, a place below the levees in the Bayou of Louisiana one storm away from destruction. The location is not exactly real but it is also not exactly fictional. You are supposed to be reminded of the Lower Ninth Ward and what happened during Katrina. This is about people who are everywhere in our society who live on the edge, extremely poor, with no resources except their own spit and guts.
And boy does this girl have guts. Quvenzhané Wallis gives a heartbreakingly powerful performance as Hushpuppy who literally takes care of her dad Wink (played by another non-actor Dwight Henry who was and is a baker) and wills him to stay alive even as he prepares her for his demise through the whole film. He teaches this little girl to be self sufficient like it could be possible. Teaches her to fish. Teaches her what to do when the water comes. Tells her what to do with his body when he dies. But she is six and is angry that he is dying and that he is dying more quickly because he drinks so much. Drinking is a pervasive theme in the Bathtub — drinking is about survival.
Hushpuppy continues the trend of amazing girls on screen in 2012. She joins Katniss and Merida and girls who fight all the stereotypes of what a girl can and should be. This girl is a fierce beast and I would never, ever want to cross her. The performance as brave, as raw and as spectacular that Quvenzhané Wallis gives is one only a young girl could give. It’s because she is so young, so inexperienced in the business and in life that she can be a fearless as she is. She doesn’t know yet the consequences of what happens to girls when they color outside the lines. This girl utterly left me speechless and strung out like a wet rag after watching her totally dominate the screen and the film. It is a breathtaking film debut by everyone associated including co-writer by Lucy Alibar (the film was based on her play) and director and co-writer Behn Zeitlin. I am still in awe of what they accomplished. This film just proves that no matter how little money you have if you have a great story and a way to tell it, it can be a huge success.