Reviews

September 20, 2022

Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “The Wonder” & “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”

 

THE WONDER (Netflix – November 16):  In the time of Ireland’s Great Famine, 11-year-old Anna (Kila Lord Cassidy) claims to have survived for 4 months without eating even one bite of food.  Is she a miracle, possibly a saint in the making, or a sham?  The elders of her small town have the girl put on a 24-hour watch, split between a nun and the nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh), a no-nonsense veteran of Florence Nightingale’s corps in the Crimean War, in what becomes both a mystery and an investigation of faith and conflicting narratives. Co written by novelist Emma Donoghue, director Sebastian Lelio, and Alice Birch, who wrote Pugh’s initial breakout film Lady Macbeth, this is Pugh in a different register than her recent high-powered Hollywood roles.  Lelio is a renowned director of actresses in films including Gloria and its US remake Gloria Bell, Disobedience and A Fantastic Woman, and Pugh gives a performance bursting with intelligence, frustration and a determination to find out what’s going on and to make things right for Anna.  Like The Banshees of Inisherin, The Wonder makes full use of its rural Irish setting, with gritty photography by Ari Wegner, who shot The Power Of the Dog and the utterly different Zola (as well as Lady Macbeth), and production design by Grant Montgomery.  There are also striking performances by a supporting cast that includes Tom Burke as a reporter with his own secrets, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Jones, Brian F. O’Byrne, and Elaine Cassidy (the young actress’s real-life mother) as Anna’s mother.  The solution to the mystery, when it comes, manages to be satisfying and logical, and so is the denouement.  In a better movie world, this is the Pugh film people would be talking about.

WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? (no distrib):  A comfort-food rom-com from Shekhar Kapur, previously best known for serious historical films like Elizabeth and its sequel.  Jemima Khan’s script gives us Zoe (Lily James), a documentary filmmaker struggling to find her next project, when one turns up under her nose:  literal boy next door Kaz (Shazad Latif), who’s been her buddy since childhood and is now a London doctor, has decided to forego new-world romance and follow his Pakistani-born parents down the path of arranged marriage.  Zoe, herself unlucky in love, decides that tracking Kaz’s route to the altar will be her new film, and if you can’t figure out where this is all going to end up, you’ve never seen a movie before.  As with all rom-coms, predictability is more of a feature than a bug, and the enterprise turns on the charm and chemistry of the leads and the ability to build some wit into the dialogue and a few surprises into the plot twists.  What Love delivers nicely in all respects, maintaining a comic but not insulting tone regarding the ins and out of arranged matches, and letting James and Latif simmer on the right side of not quite comprehending their feelings for each other.  It certainly doesn’t hurt that Emma Thompson plays Zoe’s mom, or that Kaz’s bustling family is a gang of charmers.  Handsomely produced and well-paced, What’s Love is airy fun.

 



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on screened.com and the-burg.com. In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."