(NEW YORK) — “They gonna know: once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub.”
That resonant proclamation is made by Hushpuppy, a six-year-old denizen of The Bathtub, a forgotten community on the edge of the bayou filled with proud and tenacious people. Hushpuppy’s words aren’t just moving, they’re a shot of adrenaline directly into your heart, courtesy of an astounding young actress named Quvenzhane Wallis.
A striking figure with her wonderfully nappy hair and clad in a sleeveless undershirt, Hushpuppy is just trying to survive, using the wisdom of her father Wink, played by fellow first-time actor Dwight Henry. Wink is a hard-living man who loves his beer and his catfish. It may appear that he lives in squalor but he, like everybody else in The Bathtub, lives the life he wants, and does his unorthodox best to make sure his young daughter has the skills necessary to survive.
Speaking of unorthodox, Hushpuppy is obsessed with the aurochs, an extinct species of enormous prehistoric cattle. “Way back in the day, the aurochs was king of the world,” says Hushpuppy. Like the storm that nearly washes away The Bathtub and the disease that’s slowly killing her father, Hushpuppy is going to confront the aurochs — as powerful a metaphor that we will see at the movies this year, courtesy of Beasts of the Southern Wild writer-director Benh Zeitlin and his writing partner, Lucy Alibar (the script was based on her play, Juicy and Delicious). All this, coupled with Hushpuppy’s desire to be reunited with the mother who abandoned her and The Bathtub shortly after she was born, is the kind of cathartic experience every film lover craves.
Beasts of the Southern Wild feels like a once-in-a-lifetime film. Anchored by ferocious, force-of-nature performances by Wallis and Henry as daughter and father, the film is a magical elixir, curing Hollywood of all of its vacuous, predictable, cookie-cutter ills. As it plays, you get the sense that something special is unfolding before your very eyes and when it’s over, you don’t want to leave your seat. You just want to sit there and bask in the afterglow of what is a truly profound cinematic experience.
It’s way too early to declare Beasts of the Southern Wild is the best picture of the year, but really, Beasts of the Southern Wild will probably be the best picture of the year. And maybe next year, too.
Five out of five stars.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio