To the Wonder

To the Wonder ★★★

Wow, women sure do frolic a lot don't they? Watching To The Wonder you'd think that's all they do. Terrence Malick's women frolic in the weeds, they frolic in the tall hay, they frolic in the bedroom, they frolic in the supermarket aisles, they frolic on the beach; they frolic all through what is the director's sixth, and easily, by a country mile that a woman might frolic down, worst film.

If directors could release a film of B-sides and demos, like musicians do with albums, To The Wonder would be Malick's version; that's the best way to describe the film. It's shot in the traditional fractured Malick way, with characters barely audible, and poetically-tinged narration that in this case seems targeted to mine new truths in love, love of self, love of another, and most groan-inducing, love of God. What would a Malick film be without meditations on God? The problem is everything feels like leftover ideas from his other, far more nuanced and abstract productions, specifically his most recent masterpiece, The Tree Of Life. To The Wonder is surprisingly repetitive and pedestrian to be this far down on the director's resume.

Perhaps this review sounds harsh for its rating. If this were any other filmmaker's debut I'd probably be singing its praises (with the same rating of course), lauding it as a stepping stone to much greater work to come. But from Malick's hands it feels regressive, and at times immature and vulgar, with its penchant for gratuitous nudity, and cliched, canned ruminations on love that fail to achieve anything truly universal. Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams spend their time laughing and crying and getting naked and dancing, and Ben Affleck stands around looking like he'd rather be editing Argo. And Javier Bardem? Well let's just say I keep forgetting he's even in this movie.

Maybe if the film wasn't so poetic AND obvious (not a good mix), or maybe if Malick kept working on it for another ten years (you can't rush this stuff, which makes me shudder when I realize the man currently has two more films in post-production), it might have been better. But it's certainly not a good sign when two of your descendants best you in the same year (Shane Carruth's Upstream Color and David Lowery's Ain't Them Bodies Saints are masterpieces compared to this). To The Wonder is not a complete blemish on Terrence Malick's resume, but please, in terms the director can relate to, for the love of more of this.

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