A short wonderful gem from Wes Anderson.
It’s a miracle that Wes Anderson would adapt a Roald Dahl novel into a feature film. He turned “Fantastic Mr. Fox” into a wonderful stop-motion feature, and he now makes “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” into a made-for-Netflix short film. But that’s not the reason why I loved this movie. In fact, I would have loved for it to be a longer feature. But there are still good reasons why it ranks with Anderson’s classics.
It uses a good amount of actors who can adapt to the mannerisms of the characters adapted from Dahl’s story and directed by Anderson. You have Ralph Fiennes (playing Dahl), Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley, Dev Patel, and Richard Ayoade. It knows how to be whimsical at a steady pace. As always, the art directions and camera angles are fun. And yet, it doesn’t need to spend big budgets to make it all look and feel exhilarating.
Set in 1959, Henry comes across a book, written in 1935, about an old man named Imdad Khan (Ben Kingsley) who can see without his eyes. To clarify, he didn’t pin out his eyes like Oedipus did. He can still see, but even if he covers his eyes, even if the doctors (Dev Patel and Richard Ayoade) bandage them, he can still see how many fingers a character is holding and he can ride a bike without getting hit by a car.
You also get a flashback sequence to how Khan got his unique ability from a guru named Dr. Yogi (also played by Ayoade). One of his meditations requires a camouflage trick we can see coming, but love how it’s photographed and placed.
This inspires Henry to train himself to use this magic to cheat in gambling. But after finding out he’s dying, he decides to make good with his cheating by giving the money away to various children’s orphanages and hospitals. To keep people off the scent, his limits is 50,000 per night in different casinos in different countries.
And Sugar isn’t Henry’s real last name. It must be protected, so let’s call him Henry Sugar.
“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” may run for less than 40 minutes, but is still more charming and wise than Anderson’s last two features “The French Dispatch” and more recently, “Asteroid City.” Again, the short length is not why I loved this movie. It allows these actors to merge with the literature characters, and know the right timing, even when some pathos kicks in.
Cumberbatch makes his WA debut with some versatility, especially in one scene when he plays to put on various disguises from a woman to a Texan. And Fiennes, who collaborated with the director on “The Grand Budapest Hotel,” is well-picked as Dahl, because of how his age and tone sets the real-life author in this particular world.
Because this is a short film, I have done my best to explain my praises without spoiling too much. From short to tall, I can sense when Anderson makes an instant classic, when he chooses his stars, and when he assembles the right artists to paint and organize his sets.
Playing in Select Theaters and Streaming on Netflix
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA strike