June 10, 2006

Film Week: “Seuss” a stinker

Posted in entertainment, parody at 11:11 pm by thewashingtonbeltsider

by Dina Toomey

The creative team behind last year’s surprise hit “Capote” has delivered a somewhat less satisfying, but similarly faithful paean to another successful writer, in “Seuss.” Sean Penn portrays the controversial writer as a man consumed with regret over revealing the details of the life of Grinch in the celebrated fictionalized biography, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” Whoville is here portrayed as a small hamlet with naïve denizens overwhelmed by the unexpected and ruthless nature of the crime

The film traces Seuss’ relationship with Grinch through the writing and early period of publication of his book, and examines the price paid by his close proximity with the subject of his groundbreaking book. Seuss is only briefly engaged by encounters with Grinch’s co-conspirator, referred to in the film as “the little dog with oversize antlers on his head.”

It is speculated that he never forgave himself or became close to anyone after this (though he did spend considerable time with a subsequently encountered natural wildlife subject Horton, an elephant he encountered while researching a book on Sneeches in the Australian outback).

In another career-defining role, Penn portrays the author as wracked with guilt over the price he pays in bringing the celebrated author to life.

“This is a near seduction, I see this indeed,” the Grinch (ably played by Ralph Fiennes) states at one point, as Seuss visits him while he is briefly incarcerated on theft charges. “Sit back, I will tell you, the things that you need. What I say is 100% guaranteed”

With the success of Capote, Bennet Miller has a top flight cast on this time out, including appearances by Liam Neesen, Campbell Scott, Michael Caine, Daniel Day Lewis, Joan Allen, James Spader, Robin Williams, John Cusack, Christian Bale and Gary Oldman. Neesen plays Hoos-Foos, Allen plays Snimm. Day Lewis is Hot Shot and and Scott, Sunny Jim. Spader plays Putt-putt, and Williams plays Moon-face. Oldman is Marvin O’Gravel Balloon Face. The standout is Bale, whose particular fate, is portrayal of Zanzibar Buck-buck McFate. Cusack gives a tour de force performance as both Buffalo Bill and Biffalo Buff.

With Seuss relentlessly probing the Grinch, they together lay bare memories of the Grinch’s agonizing childhood Christmas celebrations with an abusive uncle, where he was paraded about on the back of a mule with flatulation problems. This is discovered to be a key motivation for the theft of the Whoville children’s Christmas gifts (except for those of Cindy Loo-Hoo, here played by Reese Witherspoon). The Grinch expresses little remorse before tried on these charges. Seuss never used his information to attempt to have the Grinch exonerated, as he preferred to describe the Grinch’s renegade act as the result of shoes that are too tight or a heart that was two sizes too small. As a result, Grinch was cast out, ostracized, and never again invited to any Whoville frankfurter parties.

Seuss was shattered, and never wrote prolifically again, publishing only 71 children’s books after the Grinch book became a best seller.

The reason this sophomore effort is less compelling than Miller’s previous one is the less discursive nature of the Grinch-Seuss relationship. Hopefully Miller will find a more engrossing narrative and more original material for his next film

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