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A small film with a big story

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POSTED: February 15, 2013 9:31 a.m.
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“Beasts of the Southern Wild” sometimes takes on a surreal quality that fits with its theme.

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We’ve been examining Best Picture nominees as we ramp up to the 85th Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 24. Today, let’s take a closer look at “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
When she was just 5 years old, Quvenzhane Wallis was cast as Hushpuppy, the lead character in this independent, magical drama. Hushpuppy lives with her father in a place known by its inhabitants as “the bathtub,” a poverty-stricken stretch of bayou between the Gulf of Mexico and a levee.
As wily, stubborn and uneducated as the people of the bathtub are, even they are aware that just about any storm could make their homes disappear. But they still stay.
Hushpuppy sees the world in a unique way. When a storm is coming, she believes giant prehistoric beasts called Aurochs are trampling their way toward her. When the storm hits, even if she and her father manage to survive it, illness still may take him and leave Hushpuppy all alone.
What did I think? In a word: Wow. Through the entire 95 minutes of running time, my eyes were glued to Hushpuppy, a character every bit as much a hero as there ever was, from Hercules to Frodo Baggins. No wonder Wallis is the youngest-ever Best Actress nominee. She’s a beast, in a really good way — gorgeous and brave.
The film is an uncommon wonder, lovingly created by the newbie 30-year-old director, New York native Benh Zeitlin. His picture is so believable that if it weren’t for the elements of magical realism dispersed throughout, you almost would swear it was a documentary.
“Beasts” has been making audiences fall in love since its debut at Sundance, where it took the Grand Jury Prize. But I have a few tiny critiques.
It’s not that I don’t believe the film is beautiful, because it is. But I really wanted to see more of a full-circle quest for our young heroine. At one point, faced with her father’s mortality, Hushpuppy goes looking for her mother, who left when Hushpuppy was just an infant. The quest could have taken on more epic proportions, instead of being such a short trip.
I also wonder how much of a resolution the end truly offers. There is an emotional resolution, but when you reign in your heart from soaring around the room, your brain may chime in to ask just what exactly Hushpuppy is supposed to do next.
I’m a fan. But I must warn you that “artsy” films like this aren’t for everyone.

 

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