“The Wonder”


Metacritic (6/10), Letterboxd (3/5), Imdb.com (6/10)

Though atmospheric to a fault, writer-director Sebastián Lelio’s meditation on reason vs. spirituality/mysticism struggles to effectively capture the innate essence of this age-old debate, frequently leaving viewers “wondering” where this story is headed. Set in 1862 Ireland, the film follows the experience of an English nurse (Florence Pugh) assigned to observe a spiritually oriented 11-year-old “miracle child” (Kíla Lord Cassidy) to determine how she has been able to survive in seemingly good health for months without eating, a claim that has made her the object of considerable public curiosity and scrutiny. The investigation subsequently raises numerous theoretical, philosophical and religious questions (many of which aren’t satisfactorily answered) while simultaneously revealing much about the past of both nurse and patient and documenting the inquisitiveness of the outside world as seen through the lens of a determined journalist (Tom Burke). However, the narrative underlying this ambitious undertaking doesn’t come across as being completely convincing; it often feels thin and underdeveloped, with an uneasy sense of its own inherent viability. That becomes especially apparent in several strange, out-of-place filmed segments and voiceover narrations in which the audience is being urged into believing in the merits of this story to the same degree as the performers who have signed on to appear in the movie (talk about a hard sell). Given the strength of Pugh’s fine performance and the picture’s excellent production values, it’s disappointing that the filmmaker seems so obviously unsure about what he has come up with in this picture, and, in light of Lelio’s track record with fine works like “A Fantastic Woman” (2017) and “Disobedience” (2017), I can’t help but “wonder” what drew the director to this somewhat flimsy material in the first place. Indeed, considering my interest in the subject matter, I probably cut this one more slack than I realistically should have, and my overall rating could be seen as generous. Here’s hoping better projects are in the works moving forward.