USA 2011. Dir: Benh Zeitlin. Scr: Lucy Alibar, Benh Zeitlin
The first film by Benh Zeitlin is the enjoyable story of underdogs, living on the fringes, who kick against natural – even primeval – and institutional pricks, to be left alone to live the life they want to live. Six-year old Hushpuppy lives next door to her father in a ramshackle treehouse/shack in the Bathtub, a precarious island deep in the bayou. Her father drinks as part of his battle with mental and physical illness but, despite a devastating storm, he continues to do his best to bring Hushpuppy up the right way, their way.
It’s a very watchable film, let down slightly at times by self-consciousness and a Disney-like feel. It’s an original child’s-eye perspective on the effects of Hurricane Katrina, the opening sequence is gloriously anarchic and there is real imagination and humour – Hushpuppy lighting her stove and when she reminisces about her mother’s beauty is a hilarious moment. Hushpuppy, played by Quvenshane Wallis – chosen from 4,000 hopefuls, bursts with innocent rebellion and resourceful loyalty and we genuinely sympathise with the father, played by a non-professional actor. But, after a cartoonish mission to unplug the floodwaters, some forced ideas (is a brothel the place all the outsider children feel whole and comforted?) and a slightly sentimental predictability, while we enjoy it, we are left without quite feeling the magic.