Where the While Things Are PG (2009)
Dir: Spike Jonze; Starring: Max Records, Catherine Keener and James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Lauren Ambrose, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Michael Berry Jr, Chris Cooper (Voices)
I only know of one friend who didn’t read Maurice Sendak’s book as a child (he’s relatively normal) and so wasn’t salivating at the prospect of watching the Wild Things come to life on the big screen whilst also worrying whether the adaptation would actually be a huge disappointment. The film had the added weight for me of being my mother’s favourite children’s book, and one which she had delighted in reading to her primary school classes.
And so, it was with great excitement that I finally made my way to the cinema to catch the film on what must have been its last day of release, my ears full of conflicting reports to which I didn’t pay that much attention. Books that are so personal will elicit a personal response, I decided, and from the off I was hooked, grinning at Max playing in the snow and shedding my first of many tears as his sister’s friends destroyed his igloo.
Granted, Jonze uses his artistic license to add bits, to change bits, but heck, it’s his film, and a direct translation of the book wouldn’t exactly have worked on screen. He also plays a blinder with the music, the best thing Karen O’s done in a while, which is in turn animalistic (she’s always had a touch of that, our Karen), playful and childlike.
But, at its heart, this is a desperately sad film. We watch Max (heart-breakingly played by Max Records) try and deal with the anger and loneliness he feels at home and seek to build a closeness amongst the wild things, finding a kindred spirit in Carol, who also just wants to feel loved. The other wild things all with huge, sad eyes, all searching for something, not really knowing what or how to express it. Yup, it sure is sad, but it’s also beautiful as we watch King Max charge about his kingdom with its dramatic landscapes and swooningly created sunsets. When it’s time for Max to go home and Carol leads everyone in a painful howling session, it was almost too much for me.
I loved it.