THE WONDERFUL STORY OF HENRY SUGAR
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel, Ben Kingsley, Rupert Friend, and Richard Ayoade
Director: Wes Anderson
Full disclosure: I’m not a Wes Anderson fan. I find his work to be style over substance, resting entirely on his personal brand of twee whimsy, candy-colored pastels, and hipster aesthetics. So, it should come as no surprise when I say that I hated The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar. Even at just 38 minutes, it was painful to endure. The actors don’t so much give performances as they are reading Roald Dahl’s story to you, complete with fourth-wall breaks, acting it out in the way you might act out a bedtime story for your kids. Meanwhile, Anderson bludgeons you to death with his trademark style.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is director Wes Anderson doing what he does best for just shy of 40 minutes. It’s sharp, meticulously designed, and the starry cast perfectly delivers the dry, witty dialogue in Anderson’s signature style. Roald Dahl’s distinctive authorial voice, alongside the fact that the source material is about storytelling, marries perfectly with Anderson’s unique aesthetic and habit of drawing attention to the artifice of filmmaking. Whereas I found this approach irritating in some of his previous films, mostly in The French Dispatch, it’s delightful in this case, emphasizing the quirky, whimsical nature of the story.
Wes Anderson films often feel akin to watching a stage play as opposed to more conventional films, and The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar takes that idea even further. This is almost like watching a picture book come to life. The dialogue is rapid even by Anderson standards, and the movie is filled with his usual thematic fashion of pastel-coloured symmetrical shots, not to mention the entertaining performances. Still, whilst very enjoyable, it’s a far cry from being Wes Anderson’s best work. It’s too fast and too quirky for its own good, often feeling like it is trying to speedrun the Roald Dahl story.
The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is a delightful way to spend forty minutes. Unsurprisingly, director Wes Anderson and author Roald Dahl are a match made in heaven. Nearly everything about Anderson’s signature style compliments the fantastical source material: the dry wit, the whimsy, the dollhouse aesthetic…it all works perfectly in tandem with Dahl’s story. The whole cast does a good job too, but Dev Patel particularly stands out, easily providing the most entertaining performance here. Henry Sugar is a fun, thoughtful little story, and an easy recommendation for Wes Anderson and Roald Dahl fans alike.
This film was reviewed by Quentin as part of Bitesize Breakdown's coverage of the 2023 Venice International Film Festival.