Florence Pugh excels as a doctor trying to figure out this starving kid.
“The Wonder” is an Irish-themed drama that isn’t at the pure authenticity of “The Banshees of Inisherin,” but it is well-acted by its leading lady Florence Pugh. I was sitting with anticipation, wondering how director Sebastian Lelio can guide such a fine, young actress in a drama that questions certain religions and parenting skills, which begin to concern the doctor sent to observe and not cure.
Emma Donoghue adapts her book in her screenplay, as she previously did with “Room,” and both of them are somber pieces regarding kids who are in bad surroundings. “Room” was about a boy and his mom trapped in a shack and adapting to society, once they’re released.
And “The Wonder,” set in 1862, has Pugh portraying a widowed, young nurse named Lib Wright, who travels from London to Ireland to observe a young girl named Anna O’Donnell (Kila Lord Cassidy), who apparently hasn’t eaten anything in 4 months, and yet doesn’t look like she hasn’t eaten anything. She claims to be fed by God, and that she doesn’t need to eat.
Either this is a miracle or a curse or maybe there’s something wicked this way comes.
Lib begins spending time with Anna, but eventually, she succumbs to her anorexia. She starts to go deeper in the girl’s condition and discovers something shocking, but her superiors (featuring Ciaran Hinds and Toby Jones,) tell her she’s only here to watch the girl, not cure her.
Also in the story is a journalist from London named William Byrne (Tom Burke), who is sent to cover this miraculous story. That is if it is miraculous. But at this point, the doctor has order the journalist and the girl’s parents (Elaine Cassidy-Kila’s real-life mother-and Caolán Byrne) away from the child, as she continues to examine her.
And there’s also a small thing between her and the journalist, which seems to tiptoe in the story. It doesn’t seem to take off as much as her connection with the girl does, but there are some moments in this subplot that pay off.
“The Wonder” takes its time to allow its main heroine to solve the true mystery behind what this village thinks is a miracle. Its mood and tone is balanced by the ambiance of Matthew Herbert’s score and Ari Wagner’s cinematography; but it’s also carried by Pugh’s lead role. She was basically the best thing about “Don’t Worry Darling,” which is financially doing well, but sold itself short in its concept. This one, however, is taken farther back in time, and knows how to use this young actress to adapt to whatever she learns.
This is Lelio’s first entry since “Gloria Bell,” and both he and Alice Birch (who also wrote Pugh in “Lady MacBeth”) collaborate with Donoghue with interesting aspects, especially how the film begins with a monologue telling the audience to believe in what they’re about to see. It feels like it’s a different movie, considering the filmmaker’s previous entries-in terms of its atmosphere, but we all can’t make the same type of movie. He does a good job with our leading lady and the child actress, who shifts quite well with emotions.
In my aspect, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is the better Irish-themed drama out in theaters-one of the best films of the year to be exact-but “The Wonder” is also something to check out in your local art house theater or on Netflix. Whatever makes you comfortable. Or whatever is practical for you.
Now Playing in Select Theaters
Streaming on Netflix November 16