I've talked more than once about how interesting this year's batch of Oscar movies were, and how for the first time in...ever?...I've actually wanted to see them all. However, I don't think this movie even passed through Orlando.
I knew almost nothing about it. Except that the little girl, whose name you can't pronounce, was the youngest nominee for Best Actress, at the age of 9 (she was 6 when the movie was filmed).
Immediately it was clear that this movie was just a little different.
Hushpuppy and her father live in a southern Louisiana community called the "bathtub"...an island of sorts that is isolated from land by a levee. The community is small, poor, and revolves around survival off the land and drinking moonshine. Hushpuppy's mother left in the early days, but her little girl still talks to her and fantasizes about finding her one day. Hushpuppy's father is inconsistent and ill-tempered, disappearing for days on end, leaving his 5 year-old to fend for herself. But both are fierce survivors, and believe in the future of their home.
Their lives are threatened by an oncoming storm, then they must contend with the subsequent flooding and rescue workers who want to take the bathtub's inhabitants to a shelter. When Hushpuppy's father falls ill, she goes in search of her mother. The little girl also imagines the arrival of prehistoric creatures that have emerged from the melting Arctic icecaps.
So...the plot is wandering. I was never quite sure where it was going, or what was up with this giant warthog-looking animals. I felt that the real draw for the film was obviously this little girl, who I believe totally deserved recognition for her role in this film. For someone so young, she had a strength of character that transcended the aimless direction of the film. She has a presence that was almost magical. I was also entertained by the actor who played her father. I learned that he had absolutely NO acting background...he owned a bakery near the film studio and befriended the crew, who instantly knew that he was THE MAN. This gentleman knew the culture, had lived through Katrina, and wore this more practical experience in his heart and on his face.
The other draw for the film is the location. I guess I know intuitively that places like the bathtub DO exist, but I felt like I was watching inhabitants on another planet. The conditions were deplorable, especially for children. The lack of schooling (except the practical kind that helps them survive), the lack of parenting or supervision, the certainty of disease-infested waters. But in that environment was also a freedom, in a crazy kind of way.
Based on what I have read, this movie was very divisive amongst critics. Some thought it a thing of beauty, others felt that it was insulting, racist and sexist.
Me? I'd be somewhere in the middle. I wasn't offended by anything I saw here. I thought it was disturbing from a parental point of view. I thought there was art and creativity in the director's vision. I thought that the little girl was a delight to watch. But I also would not have thought it an Oscar winner in the four categories it was nominated (Best Actress, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay).
4 out of 5 stars