It ain't easy being a young adult movie.
Right out of the release gates, YA movies face a risky road, and sometimes an outright fight for survival. The big hitters like #TheHungerGames and #HarryPotter have already come and gone, and now, Hollywood is in a mad scramble trying to find something to replace them. Sometimes they hit the target with movies like #FantasticBeasts, and sometimes all the arrows fall to the floor. But don't lose hope, young adult fans. There are a few secret weapons hidden in the release schedule, and one of them might pick up an Oscar this year.
And The Oscar Goes To Whom?
A Monster Calls, adapted from Patrick Ness' beloved terminal illness story, is a movie that isn't holding up well at the box office. It exploded in Spain, but the American release has not been as shiny as it deserves to be. What the movie has done, however, is stir up award season speculation. What's so special about this little YA movie that could possibly make people talk about Oscars when it hasn't even gathered financial strength?
A Monster Calls, the latest secret weapon on the YA lineup, has three spectacular tricks up its sleeve that haven't been brought to the genre in full force, but are sure to call some high-stakes attention from the biggest award show of all.
1. On-Point Art Production
Front and center, A Monster Calls shows off a truly impressive rendering of Liam Neeson as a tree. As awe inspiring as that sounds, it isn't the reason the visuals work so well. Alongside CGI, the art team brought Jim Kay's dark pencil illustrations to life with watercolors — moving, vibrant, watercolor paintings.
While other YA movies have dabbled in the realm of experimental art production (like Harry Potter's sobering The Tale of the Three Brothers), A Monster Calls is the first to weave it into the plot as an essential element. It was a risk. Transferring the delicate aspects of watercolor to the screen would have been hard enough without having to make them work on a narrative level, but A Monster Calls did both. Where else in the #YoungAdult genre can you find truly unique, truly compelling art production? If the Oscars love anything, it's sharply produced visuals.
2. Knowing When To Turn Down The Volume
As much as everyone loves blockbusters, they aren't always the most obvious Oscar choices (but nobody would really complain if Civil War picked up a nomination). The lower emotional profiles are to blame. It's hard to pull a wide range of feelings from audiences when the guns won't stop firing or the clever banter never ends. Often, the most successful YA movies are the ones with whiplash action scenes, swelling music, and sound effects that rattle the theater seats. None of that is bad, of course, but A Monster Calls taps into a new level of emotion by using silence in key scenes.
Telling the story of 12-year-old Conor and his terminally ill mother requires some sharp edges. A Monster Calls makes everything a little sharper by cutting down the dialogue, cutting down the music, and cutting down everything but Lewis MacDougall's acting and a little imagination from the audience. Silence makes you think. Silence is a negative space that forces you add your own thoughts and feelings. The deeper emotions and quieter style makes A Monster Calls a much more likely contender for the golden race.
3. Perspective, Perspective, Perspective
This is a common complaint thrown at movies for younger audiences — narrow perspectives. Scripts that confine themselves to teenage drama and trivial conflicts. Emotions that are never really explored. Are they valid complaints? Sometimes, because young adult movies tend to keep their stories small in terms of character age. A Monster Calls rises above this by shaping the story with young and old points of view, and some of these characters are played by big-name actors.
Conor spends most of the movie talking to not only #LiamNeeson's tree monster, but his grandmother as well, who's played by Sigourney Weaver. Even though the spotlight shines on Conor, the rest of the cast is there to back up every turn of the plot and counteract all of Conor's confused 12-year-old outbursts. The raw talent bleeds through every scene, adding to the emotional roundness of the story and giving the #Oscars some interesting supporting characters to consider.
A Monster Calls has set itself apart from the rest of the young-adult world. It experiments with brilliant art elements, understands that overproduction isn't always the best way to go, and brings in a diverse, heavy-hitting cast to strengthen the story. Even if it doesn't rake in the box-office cash it deserves, A Monster Calls is a strong contender for the Academy Awards.
What do you think? Will A Monster Calls show up when the nominations are released?