The Wonder Review – IGN

The Wonder is out now in select theaters and will stream on Netflix on November 16.

Director Sebastián Lelio has made some notable films, including the Spanish-language drama Glora, the English-language remake Gloria Bell, and his stellar 2018 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, A Fantastic Woman. Each is both grounded and imaginative, with a lived-in, familiar quality that makes up for any lack of visual embellishment. Sadly, his latest film, The Wonder, is losing its fame in the service of a mysteriously presented mystery, about a 19th-century English nurse who travels to Ireland to investigate a miracle, unfolding a story of deeply held beliefs and even deeper regrets who read like demons on paper, but in practice they play out as mere inconveniences.

The year is 1862. It’s barely been more than a decade since the Great Famine, and battlefield nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) has been summoned to a small Irish town. She’s been tasked by the township elders to watch over a young girl named Anna (Kíla Lord Cassidy), who some say hasn’t eaten since her eleventh birthday, four whole months ago. Lib’s job is to observe and verify, though her sense of duty compels her otherwise – if only for Anna’s safety. The Wonder isn’t really concerned with the ‘how’ of the girl’s survival, but with the ‘why’.

Made from a screenplay by Emma Donoghue (which she adapted from her own novel, just as she did with the movie) Room), The Wonder is framed as a story of storytelling, which begins on a modern film set before stepping into the past. There’s even a voiceover that references the importance of stories and the way people cling to them, setting up a story of fanatical religious belief manifested as supervising a girl who nearly starves herself to death just years after a famine. Surely there must be reasons for this – be they good or bad, they are reasons why Anna and her family should believe in it anyway – and in trying to discern these motives, Lib eventually reveals parts of her own past, and her own past. tragic story, showing her concern.

The problem is that these stories (and the film’s musings on storytelling) are far more compelling in theory than in execution. While young Cassidy delivers a mesmerizing feat as a girl who claims to survive on “manna from heaven alone,” Pugh’s character comes across as more empty than reserved, thanks to a visual approach far too understated for a tale of lingering doubts that evoke horrific evoke thoughts and memories. The cast includes heavy hitters like Toby Jones and Ciaran Hinds, who play members of a board of directors that meet to debate Lib’s duties, but they feel like an afterthought. So much of The Wonder’s experience is akin to watching filmed rehearsals in pre-production, with little staging, movement, or rhythm to enhance what is clearly a highly charged text, given the facts that are eventually unearthed about various central characters. .

However, that’s all they are. Just facts, despite Ari Wegner’s warm low-light photography trying to make the story intriguing and eerie, whimsical musical notes by Matthew Herbert, which are filled with distorted voices and try to break your sense of balance. Rather than use staging, framing and movement to complement these forces, Lelio decides to forgo this, in favor of a more observational approach – but what he observes is rarely expressive enough to speak for itself.

The Wonder is the rare movie where you might get more out of reading a plot summary.

Lib and the film both wander through what should be a powerful (and powerfully self-reflexive) narrative about how holding onto stories, beliefs, and rituals can both captivate and liberate. Even the handful of times when faith is challenged, through dialogue, results in few characters or a sense of shock on the part of the audience. And when the story eventually takes minor twists — calling them “twists” or even “drifts” would be generous — it’s often hard to tell which moments are meant to be emotional highs, and which are the pauses or the connective tissue. After a while it all feels squashed into a homogeneous mass, rarely stirring and almost never curiosity, let alone emotional intrigue.

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