Screens

Review: 'Beasts of the Southern Wild'

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Every so often a few movie reviewers fall in love with a new independent film and write gushy early reviews. Other critics read the reviews and get excited to the point that they become fans before even seeing the production. Actually watching the film becomes just a formality, a prelude to an unacknowledged contest to see which writer can construct the most romanticized review (the spectacle happens in reverse as well — writers periodically fall into a pack mindset and try to outdo each other demonizing a film that is merely bad).

Such is the case with Beasts of the Southern Wild, an uneven look at a group of people that refuse to leave a flood-ravaged part of Louisiana. The film is gritty and intriguing at times. At times it tries to turn the poor denizens of the area (played by non-actors) into larger-than-life folk figures. At times it shoots for mythic status, focusing on a compelling six-year-old girl living with her unstable father, and trying to elevate her life into something epic and otherworldly.

The uneven production has grand moments, but first-time director and co-writer Benh Zeitlin lacks discipline and focus. His debut is promising and well-worth a look, but I suspect the premature adulation was triggered by the combination of a few great scenes, the charismatic old-soul-in-a-young-body Quvenzhane Wallis, and the fact that Zeitlin is the son of two American folklorists. Zeitlin may someday be a visionary filmmaker, but he's not there yet.

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