Jonez's temperamental vision searches life's ecstatic peaks as much as it mines the darkness yawning below; wearing the same thin skin innate to every child. While the film is a live adaptation of Maurice Sendak's celebrated children's book by the same name, it's not intended for the toddlers' story-time circle.
If you aren't swept away, you'll be fighting for breath. "Wild Things" doesn't have patience for stragglers.
With a screenplay penned by Jonez and Dave Eggers, "Wild Things" crashes the gates from the movie's first seconds with ferocious enthusiasm. The film's spirited center, Max (Max Records), isn't just haphazardly introduced. Barreling down the stairs, pouncing, snarling and bearing his teeth, Max wants to scare the audience. It's an attitude as relentless as it is infectious. And it feeds the film's greatest scenes with a warm, potent charm.
Shot mostly with a hand-held camera, the cinematography delights in exploring Jonze's stunning imagery with gleeful curiosity. When Max acts out--crying as he runs out of the house after his mother (Catherine Keener) invites her boyfriend to dinner--the shots swell with his anger and tears.
Like getting swallowed up by fantasy, Max's escape from home flows seamlessly into a voyage to the land of the Wild Things. Similarly, the Wild Things' personalities and actions follow a dream-logic pulled from Max's unconscious mind. As Max befriends the monsters (voiced by James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Chris Cooper, Paul Dano and Forest Whitaker) and makes himself king, Jonez never ceases to articulate the frail and temporary nature of everything for children. Even in Max's make-believe utopia--relationships, the landscape--nothing's permanent.
Challenged with adapting the 10-sentence story into a feature-length film, Jonez and Eggers rely on the film's energy and the audience's fascination with their whimsy to do much of the heavy lifting. It's an extended art-film daydream. If you aren't swept away, you'll be fighting for breath. "Wild Things" doesn't have patience for stragglers.
But if you're willing to let go, to lose yourself in the captivating storm of nostalgia, it's an unforgettable journey.