I emerged from a screening of Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things are last night in a thoroughly schizoid state. I had a great deal of admiration for the filmmaking, for the craft and the aesthetic choices that resulted in a fantasy film shot in a near-documentary style. Make that, rather, a child's notion of a documentary style; I very much dug a shot of hero Max and his put-upon mom from under the desk that she's working at, not to mention the from-a-crouch approach the camera takes to the Wild Things' bonfire.
But there was always something about it that was setting my teeth on edge, and the aggregate effect of that thing, whatever it was, was to send me out of the theater believing that I had despised each and every single frame of it. A disproportionate reaction, to be sure.
Were there some extra-diegetic factors at work here? To be sure. Maurice Sendak's much celebrated book, on which the film is based, was not a part of my own growing up. My preschool upbringing seems to have skipped children's books entirely, but we needn't go into that at the moment. As an adult I've come to find Sendak a wholly admirable figure, but I never, you know, cared that much. It could be that I'm mildly resentful about what appears to be everybody else making such a goddamn big deal about this movie. And then there's the fact that I'm of about six minds concerning Jonze's screenwriting collaborator, writer and literary entrepreneur Dave Eggers, and that one of those minds finds a lot of Eggers' notions to be precious and smug, and that this mind approached Wild Things in something of a surly mood, spoiling for a fight.
So there's that. And i do believe that a big part of my problem with the film stems from what might be seen as an Eggersian attitude, for I found the film's predominant mode of being was not so much as a celebration of childhood, or a painstaking examination of childhood emotional states, as I found it to be a rather snotty privileging of childhood, specifically male childhood. I was particularly put off by the film's coda (I don't know that this is actually a spoiler, but I suppose I ought to alert you), which seems to direct a very specific message at single mothers, that message being, if you even try to carve out a minute corner of life for yourself, your little boy is going to turn on you, and then you'll be sorry, so best not to even go there.
There—you didn't know I had a sensitive, quasi-feminist side, did you? Well, voila, for what it's worth. This put me into something like a rage, which was considerably tamped down by J. Hoberman's droll, detached pan of the film in The Village Voice. For which I thank J. very much. Funny stuff, this: "Unmotivated in the book, Max's tantrum here is triggered by his sister's betrayal and amplified by his mother's. (Women!)" "So far, so totally Cassavetes." I was also heartened by the sheer don't-give-a-damn-cussedness of his dismissal of the picture's score, concocted in part by hipster goddess Karen O: "Insipid indie rock." Ouch.
Others will disagree, and rather violently. For my money, my friend Kent Jones' detailed appreciation of this fantasy's emotional specificity, in the current issue of Film Comment, is the most eloquent defense of the film thus far. Consider this considerer on the fence, maybe needing to see the thing again, but more interested in moving on to talk about The Fantastic Mr. Fox in any event.
UPDATE: Okay, you all. Taking into consideration the genuinely foul mood I was in before the screening, and the intelligent and impassioned counters my sour plaints have generated, I intend to see this puppy again some time over the weekend, and publish my findings either here or at The Auteurs' by Monday evening. Now I wonder—would picking up Eggers' "novelization" of the film, or whatever the hell it is, make me more or less kindly disposed? Hmmm...