To The Wonder: Malick Pixie Dream Girls
Terrence Malick's storytelling style is so valuable; it creates so many opportunities and points of view. It opens things up. But it opens itself up to parody so easily, and it's difficult for any other filmmaker to do what he does, the way he does it, and not get accused of derivative pretention. In fact, it's difficult for Malick to avoid that accusation at times, and in the case of To The Wonder, it's warranted.
Marina (Olga Kurylenko) meets Neil (Ben Affleck, overmatched) in Paris. After a courtship consisting largely of Marina dancing from place to place in various full skirts and stroking pretty nature while Neil watches, or the two of them standing at windows or field edges hand-in-hand and staring at a world that can scarce contain their paired destiny, Marina and her daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) move with him to Oklahoma. Then Marina moves back. Then Tatiana goes to live with her father. Then Neil has unsexy R-rated-Tinkertoy-assembly sex with Jane (Rachel McAdams). Then Marina comes back. Shuffled in amongst the fragments of the end of the affair, Javier Bardem as a priest wanders about questioning his faith while the women play with sheets, hide in curtains, squint into the sun that backlights their feminine mystery, fondle tall grasses, but nothing distinguishes them as people, not even the name "Marina" and the recollection of another, also European, also fetched up in the middle of the huge country with nobody much to talk to. It's all very beautiful and portentous, for about ten minutes, until you realize you could just as easily watch Days Of Heaven again, a film that had something to say about three-dimensional people. To The Wonder is the bong-hit verse you're supposed to scrap the next day instead of acting like you discovered the spring breeze.
Kurylenko and Affleck's chemistry doesn't work, partly because he spends the bulk of his time onscreen looking intimidated by his director and partly because Kurylenko, though charismatic, is written as a slow girl without access to cable — so much chasing birds and examining her hands. We're meant to find her kooky dances and naps on the bedroom floor charming, or see how Neil might, but it doesn't really stand for anything, so it ends up feeling like sophomoric filler.
Malick seems genuinely to believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, and I support his efforts to narrate and reflect experience in that headspace. That said, the words "sunset" or "nuzzling" repeated a thousand times each doesn't add up to anything. A gorgeous, dour failure; avoid.
Tags: Ben Affleck Days Of Heaven Javier Bardem movies Olga Kurylenko Rachel McAdams simmer down freshman Tatiana Chiline Terrence Malick To The Wonder