Our film critic Vera Wang is taking on the latest and most buzzed-about movie titles to hit the big and small screens. Check out her take on The Wonder.
Known for his unique, female-centric films like A Fantastic Woman, Disobedience, and Gloria, writer-director Sebastián Lelio returns with The Wonder, a… lukewarm movie that, while neither exciting nor unpleasant, leaves more to be desired in terms of story and character range.
The Wonder is set in 1862, a decade or so after the Great Famine. English nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) is summoned to a small Irish town to observe a girl who has seemingly been surviving without food for four months. Both Lib and Sister Michael, a nun, have been employed by the town watch; for two weeks, they must take separate shifts throughout the day and record Anna O'Donnell’s wellbeing, reporting their separate findings at the end of which to either prove or disprove Anna’s miraculous survival.
The movie does well to deploy contextual exposition naturally, when Lib questions the town watch about her employment. Why her, why a nurse, especially one from England, and why a nun? The first act of the movie is straightforward enough, getting us acquainted with the major players and their alliance to the Catholic or scientific doctrine, which foreshadows the major theme of the movie- religion and Fate.
However, it’s through the second act where the movie loses steam. This becomes especially apparent with the repetitious sequence of Lib’s daily observation shifts. While far from being tedious, one can only assume that they’ve been made so slow-paced, whispery, and sedated to drip-feed information and draw out anticipation for the ‘reveal.’ To no success, however, because by the time the secret is unveiled, you’re bored out of your mind and couldn’t care less if Anna was really blessed by God, or if she was just secretly eating her bedsheets the entire time.
Three questionable and unexplained plot elements make prominent appearances. The first is Lib’s nightly routine of ingesting laudanum and playing with her dead infant’s baby booties. Lib, as a result of losing a child, sees the O'Donnell family’s refusal to feed Anna as child neglect, even going so far as to accuse them of “abandoning” Anna. You’d think the subtext of Lib viewing Anna, an abandoned child under her care, as a second chance at motherhood would be more widely explored, but it isn’t, and it’s frustrating.
The second element is the strange meta-narrative, whereby Niamh Algar, who plays Kitty O’Donnell, stands amongst the real-life set of The Wonder, introducing and concluding the story. Given a secondary acting credit as ‘The Narrator,’ she encourages us to “believe in [this] story… because we are nothing without stories.” The purpose of this fourth-wall break is unclear, and conveys an air of pretentiousness, rather than the provocativeness Lelio was likely intending on.
The third questionable element is the score, which, with its ethereal and otherworldly instrumentals, would have you believe that there’s something much more supernatural at stake here, but there isn’t, and it amounts to nothing.
The Wonder fails to live up to its name in any measurable capacity- at no point do the circumstances of Anna’s survival appear wondrous, and the execution of her story is consistently less than. Pugh’s acting is forced to bear much of the burden, though the required subtle performance can only do so much to maintain audience interest when almost everything else is wholly unassuming. Many elements of the story jump out as interesting subplot or potential sources of tension, but sadly, they’re left to collect dust and quash audience expectations. The haunting ambience is thoroughly misplaced, creating a sense of atmospheric horror for a story that’s really a period family drama. The Wonder is a movie that's neither here nor there, and, with its heavy-footed second act, would ultimately have benefitted from a tighter script and shorter runtime.
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Every week, Volumes will feature a new review from one of your St Cuthberts classmates. Want to write one of your own? It's easy! Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line 'Book review request' to find out more.
This week, Ava Dilly (Year 10) reviews Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram.
“‘We have a saying in Farsi. It translates ‘your place was empty.’ We say it when we miss someone.’ I sniffed. ‘Your place was empty before. But this is your family. You belong here.’” To say I went in unprepared would be an understatement. Darius the Great is Not Okay is far from your typical young adult contemporary, with focus on familial connection and mental health hitting the reader in all the most painful places. Published in 2018, Adib Khorram’s beautiful story of figuring out one’s identity in a complex world has something for everyone to connect with.
Darius Kellner, a half-American, half-Persian teen with clinical depression, feels disconnected from his Persian family members and as though he is a disappointment to his hypercritical father. He travels to Iran for the first time to visit his terminally-ill Grandfather, where his life is changed when he befriends a boy named Sohrab, who helps him discover many things about himself he didn’t think were possible.
Darius the Great is Not Okay shares a lot of similarities with Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. The importance of connection and relationships is emphasised in both stories, with both main characters initially struggling to form meaningful bonds due to pulling themselves away from others. The two books also highlight how people struggle to feel connected to their culture and the isolation they can experience as a result of this. However, Aristotle and Dante is primarily a love story and Darius focuses more on personal growth. Romance is hinted at but not expanded in this book.
If you’re like me, and have seen this book around but never picked it up, make sure to grab it at the next chance you get. I’m disappointed in myself for waiting this long. Khorram does such an amazing job at portraying mental illness and how it affects an entire family. I loved that this book was written by a Persian author with clinical depression because it made Darius’ voice feel so authentic. Having not known much about Persian culture before reading, I spent half the book wondering where I could get all the food being so alluringly described, and the other half being amazed at how passionately Khorram was able to paint Iran for the reader. I’d say a highlight of the book for me was Darius’ relationship with his father because of the development they both went through. The only critique I have is that the lack of communication was frustrating at times, and I felt the ending was a bit rushed. Though– that could have just been me not wanting the book to end.
Darius the Great is Not Okay was a story of discovering identity and overcoming adversity that I can guarantee will warm any reader’s heart. I would recommend this book to anyone over the age of 11 who likes when romance is not a main focus, learning about different cultures, and who wishes young adult books would be more emotionally touching. I gave this book 4 ½ stars and can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel: Darius the Great Deserves Better.
Trigger Warnings: ableism, bullying, depression, fatphobia (challenged), homophobia, family member with terminal illness, islamophobia, racism (challenged), suicidal ideation
Keen to read? You can pick up a copy of Darius the Great is Not Okay at the Frances Compton Library!
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