“A tale of two strangers who transform each other’s lives, a psychological thriller, and a story of love pitted against evil.”
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Writers: Sebastián Lelio, Alice Birch, Emma Donoghue
Staring: Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, Toby Jones, Ciarán Hinds, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Niamh Algar, David Wilmot, Ruth Bradley
Release Date: November 16, 2022
Let’s start with this. The log line for The Wonder (2022) is very liberal in regards to what the movie is actually about. Whoever wrote this one-sentence summary is going for the metaphorical story weaved within the story. It not not wrong, but it is also not right.
The Wonder is not so much a battle between love and evil. It is a confrontation of desperation versus pity. It is a conflict between hope and reason. It is a battle between faith and logic. All set in Ireland in 1862 just after a disastrous famine struck the land.
Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) is a nurse summoned to small town in dreary Ireland. A council have brought Lib, and a nun, to take part in an observation of 11 year old Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Casidy). The young girl is considered a miracle by the town because she has stopped eating, yet she continues to live with ease. Her survival just off the “manna of God” has raised the village’s prominence and has brought a massive amount of interest on forgotten people, but is Anna a religious miracle or a shaky castle of cards?
The Wonder evokes the same reaction as recently released movie featuring another great actress in a medical role. The Wonder is a lot like The Good Nurse (2022). The Wonder is good. That is putting it plainly, but the plain can also be true. The Wonder is well constructed and anchored by a strong performance from an actor who always has a way to insert herself into the fringe of award consideration. The Wonder demands a bit more from its audience by asking viewers to think about the concept of science vs. religion and the context of this starving miracle, but the homework is not stressful enough to take away enjoyment from the story.
Why is Florence Pugh so good in The Wonder? Pugh has one of the best blank stares in Hollywood. Weird, I know, but stay with me. When the character Lib is standing in front of the council giving reports and listen to her ramblings, she has a great 1,000-yard stare that shimmers with an ethos of defeat. It is an interesting dichotomy with young Anna, who is living without any nutritional value yet still glimmering with hope in her eyes.
Another perpendicular story path comes as the mystery of The Wonder unfolds in Emma Donoghue’s story. Lib and Anna are both dealing with trauma from their past and the way they are handling those memories is very different. Lib self-medicates ingesting drugs and spending time alone afraid of connection. That evolves as she watches Anna, but her starting point is the opposite of her ward. The town’s upheld Simba figure deals with past negative experiences by not eating anything and surrounding herself with her (over) loving family. She is numbing her body not intaking anything, and Lib is numbing it by intaking drugs.
The year 2022 was Florence Pugh’s best year since she broke onto the scene on a big scale in 2019. She emerged as an up-and-coming star with Midsommar (2019) and Little Women (2019), and three years later she circled in the headlines again with arguably the same fanfare.
The Wonder is a great performance that lets everyone know she can carry and drama all by herself. Don’t Worry Darling (2022) may have flopped as a movie, but Pugh proved she is a public relations wizard dominating that conversation around the controversy. Pugh capped off 2022 with Puss In Boots: The Last Wish (2022), which is widely considered one of the best animated movies of the year.
So she has a solid indie drama with a great performance, a culture-swallowing movie, and a critically acclaimed and widely seen and potentially winning animation voice part. Not bad for the one-time Oscar nominee.
The Wonder is the first movie I have seen directed by Sebastián Lelio. His best achievement is setting a distinct tone. It is not a happy tone, but its dreariness helps the audience connect to the desperation that the town’s higher-ups want in wishing for a miracle. There are almost zero sun in The Wonder, and while that is meteorically accurate for Ireland, it also matches with the clouds of doubt hovering over Anna and her family.
Of all the accoutrements, The Wonder‘s best asset is its musical score. It is number six and falls just short of my own personal Oscar power rankings. The crescendoing every time Lib is eating alone in the dining room still stick with me now weeks after watching them. The music is composed by Matthew Herbert and he has worked with Sebastián Lelio before this. You can tell their connectivity is strong. The themes for visuals and audio blend together to add to the story.
In terms of award possibilities for The Wonder, they are not the most promising. It has gotten some recognition for music, best actress and best adapted screenplay. All the attention The Wonder has gotten has been from British film festivals and other foreign organizations.
What is next for our queen Florence Pugh? She is in Oppenheimer (2023) and Dune: Part Two (2023), so nothing too big. No big blockbusters or anything like that. Easy work for the rising superstar.
The Wonder is streaming on Netflix.
STANKO RATING: B (3.5/5 Stars)
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