as Hushpuppy in
"Beasts of the Southern Wild"
First off, I think Beasts is the best film of the year, by far, and I think it's massive heart, soul, and independence has been grossly misunderstood by far too many people. I can understand why this film is divisive, but most of the negativity about the film has been about things I don't really think are true to the film. But that's what you get when you make an incredibly ambiguous film, eh? There are bound to be many different interpretations, but I am glad that many people have gotten the emotional impact that I got while watching the film.
Wallis plays Hushpuppy, a little girl living in a dirt poor Louisiana bayou community called "The Bathtub". Despite the squalor and questionable living situations, the residents of The Bathtub are happy, united, and fiercely detached from civilization. Hushpuppy has a naive, innocent, and optimistic perspective on life, and a close relationship with animals. Despite her and her fathers constant arguing, he is Hushpuppy's life. She looks up to him and tries desperately to impress him at every turn. We learn early on that her mother has left, and even though she has never met her, Hushpuppy has a connection with her, often talking to her although she's not there. After having a fight with her dad, a massive storm erupts that floods The Bathtub. Her father, Wink, and the residents resort to living on a floating barge in the water, and search for a solution.
Throughout all of this, Wink's health is slowly going down hill, and he tries to teach his daughter how to survive on her own, in case something happens to him. Throughout her and her father's many fights and arguments, it's clear the entire way how much Hushpuppy loves, and needs her father. She tries to find someone to help him and goes in search of her mother. After meeting her "mother", things become clear and she realizes she needs to be with her dad. Eventually, all the lessons her father taught her are put to the ultimate test. Hushpuppy, finally, is able to show her father the strength and Independence he has passed down to her.
I know I'm probably one of the few people out there, but I think this performance is absolutely outstanding. I don't agree with any of the massively negative opinions many of the people on the forums I post at have with her. I think this is nomination is one of the most inspired decisions the Academy has EVER made.
People have a lot of issues with child performances, battling with how much is the actor's performance, and how much is the product of the director. I don't really care how this performance came about honestly, the end result is what matters to me. And the end result is the most beautiful, emotional, and complex performance given by a child, period.
Wallis' body language, and emotions are the reason Beasts is successful. She becomes Hushpuppy and feels every emotion she is supposed to feel, it's a lived in performance that becomes more captivating as the film progresses. In the beginning her performance is really scattered and obnoxious, but that is exactly who Hushpuppy is at the start of the film. After the storm Hushpuppy, and Wallis become much more observant and focused. Her connection with Dwight Henry, her on screen father, is beyond touching, and the love and understanding they have for each other makes everything hit closer to home as their relationship is constantly put to the test.
The final 2 scenes, the scene with her "mother" and the "no crying" scene are enough for her to be nominated. Child performances are mostly built on being over the top because it's easier for children to understand broad emotions, but Wallis' performance is incredibly subtle, and she absorbs everything and exudes the hopeful, sad nature of Hushpuppy every second she's on screen.
Whether or not this performance is the result of Benh Zeitlin's excellent direction escapes me, but I do know that no matter how much direction he gave, only one person was able to feel and execute the complex character of Hushpuppy, and that is Wallis.
Verdict: 5 Stars
I think this performance, like the film, is a masterpiece. People have a hard time accepting the ability of a child actor, but I think Wallis really delivers a performance that, over time, will become iconic, and will become a new standard for child actors. She carries an entire film on her small shoulders and deserves a lot more attention than she's recieved.