‘The Wonder’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Set in The Irish Midlands in 1862, The Wonder follows the story of a young girl who stops eating but remains miraculously alive and well. English nurse Lib Wright (Florence Pugh) is brought to a tiny village to observe eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell (Kíla Lord Cassidy). Tourists and pilgrims mass to witness the girl who is said to have survived without food for months. Director Sebastián Leilo crafts a dark piece that pits science and blind faith against each other. Even though it takes place in the 1800s, the conversation can hold some relevance today. Whether it’s blind faith in what God has created or the scientific fact of what has been studied for decades, the conversation of autonomy over one’s body is always important. The way Leilo and cinematographer Ari Wegner captured the unsettling atmosphere through their incredible visuals and direction made these ideas appear differently to audiences. 

It is one thing to discuss these matters with characters on screen, but it is another to show their feelings through the visual storytelling of the film. Wegner has been such an impressive force with her compositions within the frame that everything complimented Pugh’s incredible performance. It seemed as though the visuals and Leilo’s direction for this piece completely overpowered the story. To see a young woman conditioned to think a certain way after a traumatic childhood event is difficult to comprehend. Her parents have attempted to help her but have turned her into this empty shell of a young girl to fit their religious narrative of heaven and hell. At the cost of a young life, an older generation must enforce their ideals upon everyone, which is even more problematic in itself. Her parents test Nurse Wright’s patience throughout the film, as she pushes her scientific rationalization as to why this young girl has survived without food. 

The moments between Pugh and Lord Cassidy together in young Anna’s room are possibly the best in the film because of their conversations. Nurse Wright has lost a great deal herself and questions if there even is a higher being out there. How can there be if she has lost so much around her, including herself? We see glimpses of Wright’s struggle, and it forces the audience to connect the pieces as to why she is so determined to save young Anna. In return, Anna is so involved in her faith that she doesn’t understand the social cues from Wright. The technical aspects of this film are what hold it together, including the chilling score by Matthew Herbert. However, the script, which is adapted by Alice Birch and Emma Donaghue (who also wrote the book) was a bit too dense. The film suffered from pacing issues and felt overly long to get to the final act. Even though the first half was set up to be a compelling narrative, it did suffer as it slowly came to its conclusion. 

The Wonder has another powerhouse performance from Florence Pugh who commanded every single scene she was in. You felt her pain from her past as it came through in how adamant she was in saving the young girl. Newcomer Lord Cassidy also gave a strong performance as Anna, she had to go to dark places to showcase her character’s blind faith in what her parents had instilled. The technical aspects of this film such as Wegner’s stunning cinematography and Herbert’s chilling atmospheric score are what made this compelling to watch. Sebastián Leilo pulled out a stunning performance from Pugh and made some interesting decisions throughout the film to have viewers question the reality of blind faith in how he chose to bookend this film. Leilo does transport you to a time that feels so distant from what our reality is only to present the same ideologies as we struggle with presently, only proving that the world around us might change, but the same issues will always remain.

TIFF ’22: ‘The Swearing Jar’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When we think about soul mates, we believe there can only be one perfect person for us. But that’s not true. There are soul mates who teach us lessons and then walk out of our lives or those who stand the test of time whether platonic or romantically. If you’re lucky, you can make lifelong friendships with them. A strong friendship is the basis of any strong relationship, which makes The Swearing Jar such an emotional watch. Carey (Adelaide Clemens) and Simon (Patrick J. Adams) feel like the perfect pairing until obstacles and feelings get in the way. This film explores that life can’t always go the way you plan it to and that it’s okay to move on. 

The way this film is structured helps with understanding how Carey processes her relationships with two different men. The flashbacks show the person she was trying to be in one relationship and in the present day is who she indeed was. Carey was a songwriter and would express herself through lyrics, but once she got married that dream of hers slowly faded into the background. She took on this new role with her husband Simon; they never originally planned to have a child. But, as we all know, people tend to grow and think differently. The chemistry between Clemens and Adams was lovely. They were sweet and tender towards each other, they felt like best friends. 

Writer Kate Hewlett wanted to explore the complexities of relationships by separating Carey’s heart in two. She was with the man who made her feel safe and secure but fell for someone who shared the same passion for music as she did. Someone who didn’t feel stable, someone who was the opposite of the picture-perfect life she was leading. Carey made some questionable choices but she also followed her heart. Lindsay MacKay’s focus on Carey and how she navigated her feelings showed the balance between both relationships. It’s more of an internalized performance by Clemens but the pain she feels comes through her music and her reactions to everything around her. 

The Swearing Jar has strong writing and a unique story that has one woman exploring different forms of love. Carey goes through major life changes throughout this film. The songs helped structure her emotions at different stages in her life and they helped her pinpoint pivotal memories. It’s an intimate portrait of love, life and grief and how some moments can change someone forever. There are different ways to look at the issues Carey faces in this film and that’s why many people will be able to connect with her in whatever she may be feeling. Soulmates are hard to come by, so when you feel like you’ve met them, you will do whatever it takes to keep them in your life.

TIFF ’22: ‘Triangle of Sadness’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Triangle of Sadness is one of the most unpredictable films this year and that is what makes it so fun to watch. From the beginning, you become locked in on the atmosphere and how director Ruben Östlund is making you feel. You are pulled into the fast-paced lifestyle of the modelling world and instantly understand the commentary on the fashion industry as a whole. That is the central focus in the first act but then grows into an overarching concept of privilege and how to survive in the world. When the two models Yaya (Charlbi Dean) and Carl (Harris Dickinson) go on a free cruise with other super-rich people it ends up sinking, leaving survivors trapped on an island.

What was so entertaining about this film is that the conversations about money and business were quite laughable. Everyone has their etiquette when it comes to spending money and working for it. What starts as a small dinner conversation about paying the bill turns into so much more as the film goes on. Yaya is an Instagram influencer and model who ends up getting everything paid for. She gets sent on holiday and brings her model friend Carl with her to take pictures of her. Together they develop a friendship (or more than one) and understand that it is more of a business transaction. Once they get on the cruise their relationship takes a backseat while Östlund shifts to the other characters on the cruise with them. They have all found success in different ways but the way they live their lives is somewhat questionable. 

The second act highlights the differences between the working class and the upper class in a humorous way. These privileged characters act a certain way on this yacht and the crew has to cater to their every need. But once the weather shifts on the ship, what transpires almost feels like karma for the way these characters were acting. It is truly one of the best sequences because it carries so much weight with the commentary on the upper class. Even though it’s a bit unsettling to watch, the conversations between The Captain (Woody Harrelson) and Dimitry (Zlatko Buric) play up the comedic moments while the madness is unfolding on the ship. Once certain characters get stranded on this island, the forced survival mode flips the power levels between the working class and the rich. Each act just adds to the determination to survive to be successful. 

Östlund crafted such a bold feature for Neon’s library because of how he combined the social commentary with three specific locations that would elevate it. The way it’s structured slowly builds into this grand finale that subtly shows the vicious cycle of trying to advance while privilege is not handed to you. It’s so engaging not only because of Östlund’s direction but because of how audiences can connect with the themes that are being explored. This cast worked together so well and each of them had such strong comedic timing to carry each act. Dean, Dickinson and Buric were standouts among the cast, but when Dolley De Leon stepped in as Abigail their world was flipped upside down. Östlund will leave you pleasantly surprised with his work and you will want to watch it again instantly. 

TIFF ’22: ‘Moving On’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Women have vastly different left experiences than men and they remember every little detail. Some women have suffered their trauma whether it be emotional or physical and those moments can give them a different perspective on life. Women become more intuned with their gut feeling and can see through anyone. In Moving On Claire (Jane Fonda), Evvie (Lily Tomlin), and Joyce were all great friends back in the 70s, until terrible things transpired, secrets were kept, and everyone drifted apart. Now Joyce has died and it’s time to set things straight. Only moments into meeting at the funeral, Claire informs Joyce’s husband, Howard (Malcolm McDowell), that she’s going to kill him. Evvie arrives late, upstaging Howard’s eulogy, and once she catches wind of the plan, decides to help Claire deep-six the old bastard.

Writer-director Paul Weitz structured the film quite well as each bit of information regarding Claire and Howard was slowly revealed. As a woman watching this you catch on early as to why Claire has a personal vendetta against her best friend’s husband. With each passing moment, Claire becomes more invested in her plan to kill Howard and she spirals. The only one who ever knew about that one horrible evening was Evvie. She understood the pain that she carried with her after so many years. They loved Joyce and to not ruin her happiness with her husband, they naturally drifted apart without her knowing the reason. What Weitz wanted to show in this film is that all of the emotional pain one can feel will manifest into something else. It’s hard to cope with a situation like that and to keep it in for years.

Naturally, Tomlin and Fonda are incredible together. They have this wonderful natural chemistry that made their relationship in the film believable. There are more secrets to be discovered between Claire and Evvie that are unexpected but make the connection to Joyce even better. Even though the film handles grief and trauma, Weitz found humour in some of it. There was this great balance between such raw emotional moments from Fonda to a quippy comeback from Tomlin that just worked so well. Weitz wanted to show audiences that no one just stops living because they’re older, these experiences stay with anyone and can still affect them at any age. It’s important to have films that highlight women reflecting on their past and trying to move on in their way. 

Moving On is a dark comedy that has two wonderful performances by Tomlin and Fonda. Claire and Evvie are two very fun characters that have plenty of life experiences to share with everyone. It’s the small moments between secondary characters that help shape the two leads. Fonda delivered on all fronts and showed her pain through anger as Claire did. Weitz made sure that her full story was heard at the opportune moment and it made an impact. It’s a heartbreaking scene because Fonda delivered it so well and it was subtlety built up for Claire to release that particular ghost from her past. Weitz made a strong feature to explore female friendships, trauma, and pushing forward. It’s a film that will make you connect with women of any age. 

TIFF ’22: ‘The Menu’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Films featuring restaurant owners, chefs and critics alike have always been under-appreciated. These films offer a different lens of understanding how difficult it can be to get into the culinary business and it’s always fascinating. The Menu deliciously serves an original concept that incorporates many moving parts and will keep you at the edge of your seat until it’s done. We meet a young couple Margo (Anya Taylor-Joy) and Tyler (Nicholas Hoult) who travel to a remote island to eat at an exclusive restaurant where the chef has prepared a lavish menu, with some shocking surprises. It is the one film this year that feels so unfamiliar and is not bad. 

Once the characters get seated for the meal director Mark Mylod does a wonderful job keeping everyone in the frame. Each couple is seated at a table and has their own issues. Multiple conversations are happening at once, and you’re able to get to know these characters quite easily. Mylod’s attention to detail inside and outside of the kitchen made for such an intriguing mystery. Chef Slowik (Ralph Fiennes) at Hawthorne’s planned a menu for his guests that co-writers Will Tracy and Seth Reiss worked into the structure of the film. The way Mylod directed each scene with the following course, while still assembling the development of these characters on screen was a real treat. 

The cast was really strong because they worked to the strengths of their characters. Taylor-Joy is always a delight to watch on-screen and Hoult barely gets the recognition when he has a good script to work with. Fiennes was unhinged as Chef Slowik and he was probably the most interesting to watch because of the commentary on criticism in the culinary industry. Apart from this story descending into madness, it’s also very funny because of how the characters interact with one another. How do these privileged people all have secrets of their own as they’ve clawed their way up to the top? Slowik creates the perfect menu to have these characters reflect on their life as they enjoy the near-perfect meal. 

The Menu is one of the most refreshing original concepts for a story that you will watch this year. Every single course presents a surprise and changes the dynamic of the characters. It’s such a fun watch because of how unpredictable it becomes. Every course is also beautifully shot to make the meal look delicious, but most importantly, the meal comes with a story. Each character then has a different perspective of the course and its meaning of it. That story is then suited for the overarching concept of the menu itself. Mark Mylod was able to make a posh culinary drama while taking the concept of criticism and flipping it on its head.