Spike Jonze does it again. His latest film is about gullible, prozac deprived monsters taken advantage of by an underaged con artist with a mother biting fetish. Turns out if has nothing to do with the original Wild Things film and neither Denise Richards nor Neve Campbell appear in it.
Oh, it's based on a children's book that I probably loved as a kid but can't remember at all now? Ah, that makes somewhat more sense. Otherwise the target demographic of monsters outraged by their mistreatment at the hands of a human boy seems to give the film little shot at commercial success.
A boy starts off the film playing by himself building a snow fort. After a few ups and downs with neighbors and siblings he gets in a fight with his mom by being disruptive as she's entertaining a gentleman caller. Dressed in wolf like pajamas he runs away after biting her during his tantrum. Somehow he finds a boat, sails away to an island inhabited by a variety of monsters. There he's crowned King, manages to avoid being eaten and eventually grows enough to want to go back home. Or just figures the jig is up with the wild crowd. Hard for me to tell which.
The film brings to the table absolutely brilliant costuming and art direction. The ability of the non-human characters to convey emotion visually is impressive. You can add to that some entertaining performances by the often very sad monsters that occasionally seem like they could populate a Woody Allen film (the standout line for me was the one who sullenly mutters "oh, that's OK - I guess no one ever listens to me" in the corner of the frame). Though the lead "wild thing" being played by Tony Soprano was a bit distracting (kept trying to place to voice). A character who's both a moody and depressed yet prone to occasional fits of extreme violence doesn't seem like as large a stretch for James Gandolfini now that I think about it.
While the dialog kept me interested and I couldn't help but occasionally marvel at the visual presentation of the film I was never really pulled into the story. Not that there's really a very involved story - and given that it's based on a 20 page children's book that likely shouldn't be a surprise. I suspect that the film stays with the book's presentation more than one would expect for a 90 minute film. Guess I'll have to take a look next time I'm in a bookstore or library to confirm.
Throughout the movie I was laughing and curious about what would happen next, but I can't say it really struck a chord for me. About halfway through I stupidly realized "hey - this is a movie for kids." Whether younger cinephiles would enjoy it I truly cannot say. My strongest objection is to the running around through the woods/chase sequences which I felt where too quickly cut to visually follow and occasionally were a little too Blair Witch for my eyeballs.
Screening note: I got a chance to see an early screening of this film by attending a fundraiser at Cinerama to benefit 826 Seattle who both the writer of the film and the director are involved with. Got myself a burger king like crown for my trouble and a chance to see it on that nice Cinerama screen. If you do decide to check this out - do try to see it in a place with nice projection. It'd be a crime to at least not enjoy the costumes.