It’s somehow fitting that I finally saw Spike Jonze’s big screen version of Where the Wild Things Are right after viewing Jason Bushman’s romantic film Hollywood, Je T’aime (now on DVDfrom Wolfe Video). While they seem from different worlds, they’re essentially the same story, with a few important differences:
In Where the Wild Things Are, a lonely boy named Max (Max Records) leaves his home after a devastating fight with his mother (Catherine Keener), crosses a rough ocean by boat and lands on a strange island filled with weird but lovable creatures ... who threaten to eat him. In Hollywood, Je T’aime, a lonely French man named Jerome (Eric Debets) leaves Paris after a devastating break-up with his boyfriend, crosses the Atlantic Ocean by plane and comes to a strange place filled with weird but lovable characters ... who want to sleep with him.
Max becomes the creatures’ king, due to his wit and imagination, and he brings together a wildly dysfunctional “family” of, well, wild things (voiced by the likes of James Gandolfini, Catherine O'Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker and Chris Cooper). He realizes that he can’t fix everything when the creatures’ self-destructive natures drive a wedge between them. He decides there’s no place like home. Meanwhile, Jerome becomes a working actor (a “king” in Hollywood), due to his wit and French charm, and brings together a dysfunctional family of social outcasts (a.k.a. "wild things") — Kaleesha, a homeless trans prostitute (Diarra Kilpatrick), Norma Desire, a jaded, aging drag queen (Michael Airington), and Ross (Chad Allen), an HIV-positive pot dealer, and his dog, Foxy Brown. Ross’ internalized homophobia drives a wedge between Jerome’s new friends. Jerome decides “Il n'y a pas de petit chez soi” (there’s no place like home).
Now of course, Max never visits a bathhouse, gets stoned with his new friends or discovers the mind-numbing horrors of riding mass transit in Los Angeles, or Jonze’s Wild Things would be even more controversial than it is. Jonze’s film is a visually stunning reimagining of Maurice Sendak’s beloved book that weighs down the book’s spare prose with too many unrelated plot elements, making it a hard film for kids to appreciate.
Bushman’s Hollywood, Je T’aime succeeds in showing us people who don’t get much exposure in gay cinema, through the eyes of an understated lead whose foreignness gives him carte blanche to do whatever he wants. That he can’t forget his wispy and annoying lover back home shows that he’s a flawed dreamer like the rest of his newfound family. Debets’ main charms are his resemblance to Adrien Brody and his warm French accent. Allen gives the best performance, as a medical pot permit-carrying stoner, while the rest of the cast does a fine job fleshing out their unusual roles, especially Airington, as the life-weary den mother.
Hollywood, Je T’aime (i.e., Hollywood, I Love You) is an odd name for a film that doesn’t particularly love the city, but it is a well-made character study and a bittersweet addition to the “making it in Hollywood” canon.
UPDATE: Where the Wild Things Are is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.