If I could summarize my feelings on this movie in 4 words, it would be: I blame Dave Eggers. To get it out of the way, I haven't read this beloved children's book, so I'm not familiar with the source material. That being said, let's get into the movie. Max (Max Records) has a crappy life with a mother (Catherine Keener) who loves him and a teenage sister who acts like a teenage sister with friends who apologize when they accidentally upset him. This, of course, is all reason for Max to go ape-s*** and be as rude as possible, including demanding fresh food, biting, and immediately running away when told he's acting out of control. Finding a strange boat, Max travels to a far-away island where he finds giant creatures, including the angry Carol (James Gandolfini); his partner, Douglas (Chris Cooper); the paranoid downer, Judith (Catherine O'Hara); her partner, Ira (Forest Whitaker); the bullied one, Alex (Paul Dano); the shy bull (Michael Berry Jr.); and the outcast, KW (Lauren Ambrose). Max pretends to be their king so they won't eat him, and, in the process, destroys their relationships further. Sounds like a grand time to me!

Before I can explain why I blame Dave Eggers, I must divulge the positive. The movie has wonderful visuals. Between the creatures (a mix of animatronics and CGI), the cinematography, the locations, and just anything to look at in general, it was gorgeous and gorgeously shot. Especially once Max gets to the island, it really does seem like a world unto itself.

There is also the great acting (and voice acting). Max Records does a brilliant job holding the whole movie on his shoulders. He's essentially the only human actor in the majority of the film. And for a child actor (hell, even in the realm of adult actors), he does one hell of a job. I also felt that the voice actors fit very well with their roles (the only awkward one was Lauren Ambrose as KW. I don't know why, but the voice seemed too young or light or something to me).

There's even the good soundtrack to match with the film. Now, outside the film, would I love the quirky soundtrack (like I did for, say, Juno)? I'm not sure. But it sure felt good and natural in the context of the film.

All that being said, with my liking of just about everything of the movie... why does the film leave me so... blah? I figured it out as soon as the credits started rolling and I saw the film was co-written by one Dave Eggers. And then it all clicked. I pondered the tone early on in the film, but I was sure of the issue as soon as I saw the name. You see, a while back, I attempted to read Eggers' memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. With a promising title like that, plus ecstatic reviews talking about the humor, plus a really promising introduction in the book, I expected a lot from it. Then I started reading chapter one. It was one of the most depressing things ever. Sure, he tried to mix in some humor here and there, and sometimes it worked, but for the most part, it was just uncomfortable and awkward. There were some major tonal problems that made it hard to keep reading (which I didn't).

I feel the same issues followed him here. Again, I'm not sure how the original source was, but this didn't feel like any beloved children's book to me. It was too dark and adult to be for kids, but too--how can I put this--crazy and adolescent for adults. It's hard to describe. In particular the crumbling relationships between the "wild things" made it very adult with some deep undertones. Not to mention the beginning of the third act is essentially a horror movie.

It doesn't help that I was never sure who to root for or who to hate. There is no good guy or bad guy, essentially. But it was really hard to buy Max's dilemmas and empathize with him, because he mainly came off like a selfish brat. And Carol wasn't much better (granted, I'm aware they're mirrored characters... actually, I'm aware all the Wild Things are mirrors to Max's emotions, but still). When you don't really have any full-out likable characters, it's hard to enjoy a movie. And that's even worse for a supposedly children's movie.

There's also a strange transition between worlds. The beginning (which takes almost too long to get going) tries to set everything up as reality. Then it's just like BAM, we're in the boat heading for the island. Is it a dream? Is it real? Who knows? Then, when the ending comes (which isn't nearly happy enough for a children's movie), it isn't much better.

Overall, the visuals (in every aspect, including creature effects)? Oscar-worthy. The acting? Brilliant. The music? Good. So I blame the writing, mostly. The tone is too out of whack. I didn't really care about much, and I found myself constantly looking at my watch. I've read reviews saying that the magic of the book has been removed, and I could see how that's possible. I've also seen reviews saying themes from the book have been ignored, which I can also see possible. For such a beloved children's book, I know something had to be lost in translation. Because on all the technical levels, the film works outstandingly. But on a story/writing level, it really needed some polish. At least that's my opinion.

I Am McLovin! 

(P.S. Confused by my scoring? Don't be. While the review was a bit negative, I did enjoy things about it. It's just that the two sides balance out and bring it down to this level).


  1. I really don't get the David Eggers thing. I mean, I actually liked the writing in this film, but is this guy a big deal or something? I have yet to understand why his name was so prominently featured on the Away We Go poster. The writing in that was so so at best.

  2. I think your parents did a disservice to you by not getting/reading the book to you as a kid. Boo. And you did a disservice to yourself by not picking up the book a a bookstore and flipping through it prior to seeing the flick (or after, for that matter). Really, it takes all of 4 minutes to read and fully appreciate; it ain't much more complex than Goodnight, Moon.

    Eggers may or may not be the end all be all of writers these days, but he and Jonze kinda did wonders with the fleshing out of the script here. With such a slim source material (a true filmed version might take about twenty minutes if really, really stretched out), they made a coherent and - even better - related storyline for the Wild Things. Basically, the book goes from the Wild Rumpus....straight to the last five minutes of the movie. They named characters, created personalities, conflicts, etc, and I think the fact that they made Max more or less become a parent to see what a shit he was was an awesome way to bring some meaning to his journey, even if the film's not for kiddies.

  3. Within my memory, my parents didn't really read to me... or at least incredibly often (I mean, they might have, but it would have been when I was really, really young and I can no longer remember very well). My sister did, though.

    Anywho... I give props for managing to make a full-length movie from an 8-sentence book (from what I've heard), but a feat in stretching out a 20-minute-at-max story to a 90-minute one doesn't make a movie entertaining. It makes it unnecessarily long. And if they were going to give personalities and conflicts to the Wild Things, they could have picked better ones, not the depressingly horrid ones they picked here.

    Again... good movie, but it could have been great (to match the visuals). And who knows, this might be one of those that I watch a second or third time and go "Why didn't I love this the first time?"


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