The score in The Wonder is amazing. The rest is less so.
Starring Florence Pugh as a frustrated nurse assigned to monitor a girl who, through seemingly divine intervention, can allegedly survive without eating, The Wonder is technically brilliant but narratively flat. Director Sebastián Lelio gives the vivacious Pugh plenty to work with and challenges his audience in a multitude of ways, but for literal viewers like myself the story at hand is surprisingly and disappointingly straightforward.
Awkwardly bookended by unconventional scenes that my limited brain still doesn’t comprehend, The Wonder is otherwise a gorgeously shot and intensely told period piece set in 1860s Ireland. The movie is less interested in the question of whether this girl (Kila Lord Cassidy) is deserving of saintly attention or not, but rather a more serious one: if you were to asked to simply observe this girl who apparently does not eat, would you passively wait to accept such a miracle (though, frankly, not eating sounds more like a curse than blessing) when your belief system tells you that you are actively letting a child die in your care?
Pugh is the right actress for the job. She deftly operates along a narrow gray line between interventionist and duty, her fierce beliefs put in check by the lingering question of, “What if?” Her performance here isn’t quite as captivating as we’ve seen elsewhere, but no less good.
The other scene-stealer is the score by composer Matthew Herbert. The music elevates the material and morphs the film from your traditional period piece to something else entirely; the score makes you lean in, to keep looking for the potentially insidious truth at the heart of The Wonder.
Sadly, I never found it. The movie left me with an unequivocal “That’s it?” when all was said and done, although I was baffled by its closing shot which I’m sure smarter critiques have already examined in detail. Nothing in the film, most notably the course the story takes, makes me care enough to think too hard about it.
The Wonder will appeal to a contingent of viewers, and understandably so. Pugh is terrific, the movie is well made, Lelio plays with the controversial. But on its face, The Wonder doesn’t leave much to wonder about.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.