Starring: Florence Pugh, Tom Burke, Kíla Lord Cassidy, Elaine Cassidy, Niamh Algar, and Toby Jones
Director: Sebastiàn Lelio
After an opening scene that legitimately made me think I had turned on the wrong movie, The Wonder becomes a boring period piece featuring a premise without a story, a mystery without a hook. Florence Pugh does nice work, and the atmospherics and cinematography are admittedly exceptional, but it mostly feels like an artsy Oscar grab. The Wonder premiered at Toronto International Film Festival, and there was absolutely zero buzz for it, good or bad. It just kinda existed in the shadows of the schedule, which I found odd at the time (I mean, it’s Florence Pugh). Now that I’ve seen it, I understand completely.
The Wonder is the reason why some people love period pieces while others hate them. It has a beautiful set design and deep performances, but it is so slow and atmospheric that you can’t help but wonder if the movie thinks it’s smarter than you. Florence Pugh is captivating as always and the premise is interesting, but the film moves far too slowly while feeling pretentious the whole way through. I can see why this was a successful novel, but as a film, I don’t think it fully works.
While the narrative framing devices that bookend the film (and interrupt its center) may seem either blunt instruments or confusing additions, The Wonder nonetheless spins an intriguing tale about science vs. religion, belief vs. observation, and the powers of storytelling. Excellently shot by Ari Wegner and boasting one of the year’s more subtly memorable scores, Sebastián Lelio’s film boasts unsurprisingly excellent work from Florence Pugh, alongside what should be a star-making turn by the young Kíla Lord Cassidy. There are moments when it stretches, and the ending is overlong, but audiences would do well to not let this go underseen.
Unfortunately, outside of Florence Pugh’s stellar performance and the beautiful cinematography, The Wonder is an overall slow and disappointing film. It’s starving itself of a fuller story, which if it hadn’t, it could have made for a more intriguing watch. The movie asks the audience to be patient while going on this journey of faith and morality, but by the end, some may realize it was just a bore with no real mystery. As great as Pugh is here, I don’t think I’ll be going back for seconds on this one.