It’s no secret around these parts that Terrence Malick frustrated me more than he pleased me with ‘The Tree of Life’ last year, which basically has been the way his whole career has gone in my eyes (short of ‘Badlands’, which I love). However, I’ve been looking forward to seeing ‘To the Wonder’ more than I usual in regards to a Malick film, since it seemed like this could be the type of project to bring him back more to his roots. Apparently though, he’s taken the style of his last flick and run with it, leading to an even more mixed reaction at the Venice Film Festival this weekend than he had at Cannes last year. From adoring words to boos from the audience, there have been some lovers, but plenty of haters as well it seems. After the jump you can see a sampling of some of the early reactions, but in my humble opinion I think we can cross this one off as a major Oscar player. It’s not out of the hunt yet, but a Best Picture or Best Director win? Nope, that’s not happening. Read on below to find out why…
Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter didn’t care for the film one bit, calling it an “impressionistic mish-mash’, and writing:
Everyone and everything is contaminated to Terrence Malick, who fills his film with one inconclusive scene after another.
To the Wonder will, as they used to say, separate the men from the boys when it comes to die-hard allegiance to all things Terrence Malick. A severely impressionistic account of the ebbs and flows in the romantic life of a man so remote that he’s essentially a noncharacter in his own drama, this sometimes beautiful, dramatically inert evocation of remembered moments from two intense but ultimately unharmonious relationships takes the voice-over technique employed in sections of The Tree of Life and runs with it for nearly the duration.
However accomplished Malick’s technique might be in some ways, this mostly comes off, especially in the laborious second hour, as visual doodling without focused thematic goals. Currently without a distributor domestically, this ultimately enervating film will have trouble rustling up audiences in any market.
There is one type of viewer who will definitely go for the film in a big way — those with a literally unlimited appetite for watching Olga Kurylenko prance, waft, twirl and cavort through sun-flared handheld shots to exult in being carefree and happy. There is truly no end of shots like this, quite a few of which also involve various soft fabrics she can touch or pass; Rachel McAdams gets to partake in a bit of this too, although Ben Affleck does not. In fact, he doesn’t get to do much of anything except look sullen, grim and/or blank in the back of or on the edge of shots while the camera emphasizes the woman.
Guy Lodge at Hitfix/In Contention is more of a fan, but also notes its “predictably divisive” in its nature:
Stop the presses: There’s been booing at a screening of the new Terrence Malick film. Whether they came from the same small-but-loud faction of supposed journalists who vocally expressed their displeasure at “The Tree of Life” in Cannes last year, or a fresh batch of doubters, such jeers are unusual for films that feature no purported moral transgressions, nor any sheer ineptitude of craft. (Films aren’t booed at festivals simply for being bad, you know: a year ago, Madonna’s “W.E.” heard not a one.)
Rather, Malick is one of the few senior A-list filmmakers who can get razzed in this fashion for being too sincere, too lyrical, too himself. And he is all of those things, to both bewitching and bemusing effect, in “To the Wonder,” a follow-up to “The Tree of Life” in more senses than mere proximity. With not even 16 months separating their premieres, they are by far the nearest-born works in a filmography otherwise thick with white space, underlining the impression of two sister films: both iridescently pictorial, ambiguously self-focused and inclined to lure critics into terms they should normally feel self-conscious about using. “Tone poem.” “Meditation.” “Elegy.” “Prayer.” Ghastly words when abused, the lot of them. Malick’s cinema somehow wears them well.
So why, given this tonal and textual consistency, did I feel admiringly detached from “The Tree of Life,” finding its explosion of formal beauty a discontinuous front for its unnourished human expressions, but far more stimulated and moved by his latest? “To the Wonder” is structurally a more modest, more linear film than “Tree” — no dinosaurs here, folks, though fans of sea turtles should prick up their ears — but it’s no less vulnerable to charges of excessive preciosity, particularly from those whose secularity applies to churches beyond the House of Malick.
Finally, Oliver Lyttelton from The Playlist fell in love with the film:
There’s very, very little dialogue in the film, with much of what is said sometimes buried in the mix or muted altogether. Even so, we might have been tempted to drop much of the narration, which sometimes feels a bit student-poetry, especially as the visuals are normally managing to achieve the same thing. And Malick, and his five (?!) editors, lose the thread a little as the film comes to close, although there’s a terrific economy of storytelling in the cutting elsewhere. It’s a certainty that the film will prove divisive as its predecessor, but we found the director’s latest to be a beautiful, hearfelt and raw piece of work.
-Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!
Tags: Ben Affleck, early word, Olga Kurylenko, Oscar hopeful, Rachel McAdams, Terrence Malick, To the Wonder