Hushpuppy was born into a world of uncertainty, namely the ‘Bathtub’ area in the deep South of mainland America, an area essentially abandoned by civilisation thanks to it being below the water table and therefore in constant peril, only a few die hards and determined individuals would choose to call it home.
Only Hushpuppy has no choice. With no mother and a father named Wink, who, thanks to an alcohol dependency and a quick temper, is as unpredictable as the rising tides and equally likely to admonish as he is to ignore. Strangely admonishment is preferable to isolation. Assisting and caring are two foreign words to Hushpuppy, who near the conclusion of the film says in voiceover “I can count the number of times I have been picked up… on two fingers.”
This very thought is unfair to any five (odd) year old. But Hushpuppy is no ordinary tyke. A three foot – three foot six with the fro – ball of indomitable energy and purpose, what Hushpuppy has missed in education she more than makes up for with resourcefulness and determination.
A good day for Hushpuppy would be subsistence to anyone else. Existing in a makeshift tin shack surrounded by scrawny animals in near solitude. In these times a little girl can let her imagination run wild to when her mother was still present, and sometimes to when other creatures roamed the area. Even these days are well below the poverty line, free of technology, basic amenities, care and education.
But these days are far better than the bad days.
Hush Puppy will find joy in the former and endure many of the latter through Beasts of the Southern Wild, a film that seeks not so much to tell a story as much as it highlights a character. With little frame of reference as to what a ‘typical’ life should be, Hush Puppy soldiers on through intolerable situations that would leave most little girls reaching for their hairdryer. Just to hold it and know it’s there. Unlike the tide Hush Puppy is never too high nor too low, with Wink’s one constant message being ‘no tears’, no matter how justifiable the reasons for sorrow might be.
It’s hard for any young child growing up with a single parent, even harder when it appears that parent is deflecting all attempts at affection and love.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is uplifting and depressing in equal proportions, like Undertow, Shotgun Stories and Winter’s Bone before it. It has gathered attention and critical acclaim thanks to the hub of the story being a mere mite, and while (the Guatemalan Insanity Peppers of…) Quvenzhane Wallis is indeed a revelation and a powerful presence, I can’t say that she is asked to do too much beyond look either angry or confused. Sure Meryl Streep couldn’t have played a grotty African American five year old better – though I wouldn’t put it past her – but the best I can say is that she is exceptionally strong here. Also, having a good proportion of her dialogue in voiceover obviously gave her as many takes as required to get it right…
Child (acting) bashing aside, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a vividly painted character study utilising a beautiful but inhospitable backdrop and a few fantasy elements. It is a well made and surprising film, but ultimately no better than any of the flicks hyper-linked above despite all of the fawning.
Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. It’s amazing that America has so much money and yet so many people who seem to have none. Luckily hope is free.