A film about the danger of believing without questioning that turns us into full-throated believers in whatever Lelio and Pugh can do.
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Pugh’s performance is more adequate than impressive, a result of her character having background and motivations laid out so there’s little else to take from what’s onscreen.
It is by no means a perfectly constructed work, but there is something more immense in its thematic aspiration that provides plenty for Pugh to play around with. All that makes it unwieldy also makes The Wonder mesmerizing so that, even when the spell is broken, you can’t shake it from your mind.
Impressive as it is that The Wonder is able to squeeze so much from its spartan trappings, the film still feels clipped at 110 minutes; there may not be a lot to chew on, but there’s almost too much to savor.
As always, Lelio has a way with his actors. Nothing will ever feel forced. Even the most melodramatic stakes will feel grounded. And yet, despite a pointless framing device the film simply does not need, it’s missing some of the visual magic of his earlier films.
Lelio and his co-writers have made a smart, subtle disquisition on the necessity of both skepticism and faith, with a particularly keen understanding of religion’s uses and abuses.
An evenhanded but ultimately preposterous adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel, co-written by the author herself (with an assist from Alice Birch).
Nothing would work quite as well without the performance by Pugh. She commands the screen from her very first appearance, and we never have doubts that anyone who tries to interfere with her will be facing a formidable adversary.
In the end, Lelio earns the powerful close of The Wonder with every temperate turn. His film, a career-best, departs like a birdsong, with an optimistic finale as perfect and revelatory as they come.