Tuesday, May 14, 2024

WIldcat (2023)

I’m not certain what I think of WILDCAT. It’s a beautifully made film with some great performances. However I’m not certain it pulls everything together the way it wants to.

The film is nominally a look at the life and beliefs of Flannery O’Connor via excerpts from her writing and scenes from her life (particularly around her efforts to write the novel Wise Blood). There are a lot of voice overs where we hear O’Connor’s thoughts. The film seeks to give us insight into the beliefs both personal and religious. (O’Connor was a devout Catholic)

Maya Hawke is wonderful as O’Connor. If she wasn’t on Hollywood’s radar for her talent, this film will do it. Her father has given her an excellent showcase for her talents.

Ethan Hawke’s direction is spot on. The film looks good. The scenes are beautifully staged. He’s created a world I’d love to fall into.

The problem with the film is the structure of the script.  A mix of sequences from several of O’Connor’s story blend with sequences from O’Connor’s life. The sequences from the stories act as surrogate representations of O’Connor’s life and faith.  The problem for me is that unless you have an idea about O’Connor’s work the stories don’t connect up smoothly to her life. We actively have to make assumptions as to why we are being shown the story we are seeing. Having had friends who were in a Catholic reading group  where they read a great deal of O’Connor I had a vague idea what some of the stories were, however, mostly  I felt a bit lost. I couldn’t fully get what I was supposed to be taking from the sequences.

It also doesn’t help that O’Connor’s works are what some have described as Southern or Catholic Grotesque, with very mannered prose and people living on the outskirts of society.  As O’Connor’s publisher mentions in the film  her writing can be like sticking pins in the reader’s eyes. She is a writer with a great academic reputation but unless someone was deeply Catholic or a lit major I don’t know anyone who actively read her works. Keeping her narration may allow us to hear her voice but it will distance most audiences.

And despite the misfire nature of the script I think WILDCAT is worth seeing. In an age where almost everything in cinema is the same preprocessed garbage, the film is decidedly it’s own thing. It’s a well made film with magnificent bits. Sure it doesn’t pull off the landing, but it’s a glorious ride to the end. It’s a film that tries to do something  and almost pulls it off.

If you want something that isn’t like anything else, this film is for you.

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