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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Beasts of the Southern Wild is a heart-wrenching fable that's so unique that it's hard to classify. It's a drama about an alcoholic father who means well but has few tools to convey his love to his spitfire 6-year-old daughter. It's a celebration of quirky friendships and the power of the imagination. It's an indictment of the deep divide that separates the rich and the poor. And much more. Expect some swearing; kids and adults both say the word "p---y." There's also lots of drinking, brutal depictions of abject poverty, an adult striking a child, and discussion about the death of a parent.
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What's the story?
Six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) is as fascinating as her name: As she walks around the cluttered, broken-down trailer in which she lives and the town in which she was raised, she picks up little creatures and objects -- a leaf, a rat -- and listens for their heartbeat. She's looking for signs of life. Across from her, in an equally dilapidated trailer, lives her father, Wink (Dwight Henry), who loves her fiercely but also loves to drink and wanders the days in a semi-drunken state, sometimes enraged, other times animated, and always, heartbroken. (Hushpuppy's mother is dead.) They live in Bathtub, a Lousiana bayou town in the shadows of a giant levee, filled with renegades like them who live hard and celebrate even harder. But when the levee breaks, there's not much to celebrate as they struggle to survive.
Is it any good?
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD proves that you don't need the bombast of a too-loud soundtrack and superhero excess to make an audience feel, deeply and achingly. Hushpuppy's devastatingly impoverished but imaginative life in the bayou is enough. Destruction needs no embellishments, poverty no fireworks. The film takes flights of fancy, but they share space well with harsh realities. The juxtaposition is outstanding, and they make you question your own suppositions -- something few films do. Is Wink a bad father, or is he remarkable given the circumstances? (The casting director deserves an award for finding two of the most compelling actors to debut in a film: Wallis and Henry are both acting novices, though you wouldn't know it from the potency of their work here.)
Beasts of the Southern Wild unfolds through Hushpuppy's eyes, and it's a sight to behold: sometimes wondrous, often disordered and dysfunctional. It's hard not to see the film through a political lens even if you're apolitical. But there's no stridency here: Fantastical moments and a fantastic script manage to juggle so much with grace. As Hushpuppy says, "The entire world depends on everything fitting together just right." But her world is one where wealth and squalor co-exist all too easily, the discrepancy painfully obvious (even though we don't really see the other world), the puzzle pieces not equal in weight or importance. Yet the hardscrabble people of Bathtub still find a way to channel their joy, even though they've been forgotten.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how Beasts of the Southern Wild depicts drinking. Are there realistic consequences?
What is the movie saying about fathers and their daughters and the ties that bind them? Is Wink a flawed father?
Parents, talk to your kids about Hurricane Katrina: Who suffered most in the end? How does this movie reference the social issues that the hurricane brought to light?
How does Hushpuppy cope with the difficulties in her life? Is she aware of them? How does she compare to other movie girls?
- In theaters: June 27, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: December 4, 2012
- Cast: Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Lowell Landes, Quvenzhane Wallis
- Director: Benh Zeitlin
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material including child imperilment, some disturbing images, language and brief sensuality
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