‘The Wonder’ Review: Florence Pugh Tells Us to Believe in Stories

The power of stories is undeniable. People from all around the world have been influenced by stories, whether they realize it or not. One of the biggest stories, for example, is the one about Jesus Christ, which ended up changing the world completely for thousands of years, even to this day. The same happened with many past civilizations, and the same will happen in the future, as stories will shape the way we approach our world in all aspects. If these stories are real or not, it matters very little. The Wonder, the new Netflix film arriving on the 16th of November, deals beautifully with this subject.

The Wonder is a film directed by Sebastián Lelio, and stars Florence Pugh, Kila Lord Cassidy, Tom Burke, Niamh Algar, Toby Jones, and Ciarán Hinds. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by Emma Donoghue, who also serves as the writer of the film’s screenplay along with Lelio. The film tells the story of an English nurse bound for Ireland to oversee a young girl who apparently doesn’t eat and doesn’t have to. It will be the work of the nurse to watch over the girl and see if they are in the presence of a scam or a true miracle.

Lelio has had a wonderful career telling stories that feel real and yet cinematic enough to be appreciated for their visual flair and care for aesthetics. Elements are not often found in real life. His film Gloria and the remake he made himself years later are true examples of this. Lelio loves telling us stories, and The Wonder is quite special in this sense because from the get-go it tells us that the film is just a story. It tells us it is a complete fabrication and yet, it trusts us to say that we should believe the lie and get invested in it.

Alice Birch, who served as part of the writing team in Lady Macbeth, one of Pugh’s first big roles, comes back to collaborate with the actress. The characters feel very much the same, but different enough so that it doesn’t feel like a rip-off. However, the execution of Pugh’s character might be completely intended, as it goes well with the greater theme that the movie is trying to employ. The main body of the film can be seen as a story about religion, faith, and how the Irish people clung to these things after surviving their infamous famine.

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However, on a more expansive level, the film can be seen as a meta-commentary on how audiences get influenced by stories. This theme is currently very in vogue. The way social media, for example, creates its own realities to cope with the open world in front of their faces, doesn’t seem very far away from the one some characters are facing in the film. The power of the human mind to convince itself of anything is truly marvelous. At times, this self-convincing can be seen as a conviction, but taken to the extreme, it can result in nefarious consequences.

The film’s direction is quite beautiful and shows that Lelio can expand his visual flair in the literal sense. Most of his recent movies have the characters trapped inside concrete jungles, but here, the characters find themselves equally lost in a landscape that is as open as the sky. A landscape that presents endless possibilities and none at the same time. It is the stuff of nightmares if looked at from a certain angle. All of these elements are accompanied by a wonderful score composed by Matthew Herbert, which makes the movie feel way bigger than it is.

It will not be surprising to say that Florence Pugh is phenomenal in the movie. Her work as an actress really moves through every space of the medium. She can be doing blockbusters or independent films, and she still brings the same energy and professionalism to each role she takes. Don’t Worry Darling might have eclipsed her wonderful performance thanks to its controversial nature, but in The Wonder, she shines as brightly as ever. Newcomer Kila Lord Cassidy measures up bravely against Pugh and comes out triumphant on the other side. Their scenes together are majestic.

The rest of the cast does an amazing job as well in the supporting roles. Tom Burke’s presence is always welcome, and the rest of the cast, including respected actors such as Toby Jones and Ciarán Hinds, brings a lot of gravitas and certification to the movie. The actors and the script work very well together, and they make you invested in this story that has already told you what it is, and yet your brain can’t help but get lost in it. It is a wonderful thought experiment that will be appreciated by a number of people and dismissed by others, but at least for me, it makes the film brave and different.

In the end, The Wonder might be one of the best films of the year. Sadly, most people will not give it a chance, thanks to Netflix’s fame for only releasing poor films on its platform. However, don’t get confused; this is a fantastic movie and one that shows that Netflix can really be a space for good cinema if it allows itself to be. Pugh is just amazing, and the story works on so many levels that it is just wonderful to see it come together in a way that seems almost effortless.

SCORE: 9/10

  • Nelson loves all things related to storytelling. He has spent most of his life studying narrative, applied across all mediums; film, TV, books, and video games. Mulholland Drive is his favorite film.