NOW ON NETFLIX! “We are nothing without stories.” This refrain is integral to director Sebastián Lelio’s The Wonder. It’s safe to say that “stories” form an integral part of Christianity, both within the sacred texts and in the countless anecdotes built around miracles of every variety. This drama brims with commentary on blind faith and motherhood, even though one can’t deny that it’s a plodding piece of work from the Chilean filmmaker.
The Wonder is about English nurse Lib Wright (current “it girl” Florence Pugh), who is dispatched to Ireland to get to the bottom of strange reports that a young Irish girl has been living for months without food, with her only sustenance during that time being her faith. On the heels of the Great Famine, Ireland is desperate for a positive story that will inspire the people. What better than a rumor throughout the British Isles that a modern Catholic miracle is occurring?
Anna, the girl in question, is played by Kíla Lord Cassidy in an impressive turn for the young actor. Her devotion is absolute, and she has the unwavering support of her close family and local clergymen. Some shocking revelations about those closest to Anna soon come to light. Even from the jump, it’s evident that something is definitely off. Lib is henceforth assigned to conduct a watch upon Anna, ensuring that she is indeed not eating any food and that this is, in fact, a miracle.
“…a young Irish girl has been living for months without food, with her only sustenance…being her faith.”
Lib isn’t alone in her skepticism. She meets journalist Will (Tom Burke), whose family has their own dark history involving hunger. Will would like nothing more than to poke holes in the fervor spreading through the Irish countryside. Screenwriters Lelio, Emma Donoghue, and Alice Birch include a romance between the two, but it never feels particularly compelling or believable in the grand scheme of such a dour narrative. This is a lost opportunity for these two excellent actors.
Lelio upends our expectations from the start. The Wonder begins with a surprising shot of a studio set before panning to Lib on her voyage across the Irish Sea in a ramshackle transport vessel. His early establishment of this film being a façade forces us to question what we’re about to witness, but that doesn’t stop the sequence from becoming an exercise in self-indulgence. I don’t see the necessity because audiences implicitly understand the complex nature of truth and fiction in tales with a theological bent. Any fourth wall breaking really needs to be important, or else it just comes off as obnoxious.
There’s no denying that The Wonder looks fantastic. Lelio and DP Ari Wegner craft a beautifully composed visual experience that often brings to mind a Vermeer painting. But among these green pastures and candle-lit interiors, Pugh is disappointing. It’s hard not to admire most of her work thus far, but her character is too withdrawn and one-note here to fully take advantage of her natural range as a performer. The drama is a mostly compelling watch, but we’re left wanting more from a film with such an impressive assemblage of individual pieces.
"…a beautifully composed visual experience..."