Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder feels like The Tree of Life on antidepressants. I liked The Tree of Life, but I admired the film more than I will say I understood it. No matter how beautiful and glorious the cinematography is in a film, the story is always the most important.
In The Tree of Life, we get some of the best photography of the past decade with a metaphoric plot that not all viewers will like or appreciate. That film worked because the shots and scenery leveled Malick’s emotional screenplay. Although To The Wonder contains some of the best shots of 2013, the screenplay is confusing and the characters undeveloped which ultimately hurts the film.
A French woman, Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and an American, Neil (Ben Affleck) meet in France start a relationship. Their relationship begins as most do, with lots of love, affection and the wanting to be close to each other. Neil asks Marina and her daughter (Tatiana Chiline) to move to Oklahoma with him. Marina accepts, looking forward to starting their lives together in the States.
Soon after the move, Marina meets Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), a priest struggling with his service to God and the Christian way of life. Eventually, problems arise between the couple and when Marina’s Visa expires, she and her daughter move back to France. After the breakup, Neil becomes close to a childhood friend Jane (Rachel McAdams), and the two fall for each other quickly. In reality, Neil has found a rebound, while Jane is wanting more.
To The Wonder follows Marina’s story, as the majority of the film is done through her voiceover (which is in French). While I appreciate the female perspective on the story, the screenplay completely misuses Ben Affleck, who probably has all of three lines in the movie.
The actors are fantastic with what they are given especially Olga Kurylenko (Seven Psychopaths and Quantum of Solace) who does a beautiful job in the starring role. The Ukrainian-born actress brings all the wonder to Malick’s film, but unfortunately its not enough to redeem the overall picture.
The absolute worst part about To The Wonder is the subplot with Javier Bardem. Somehow Bardem and Kurylenko’s characters were supposed to be linked as “exiles” in Oklahoma, but the two only had some simple dialogue exchange in the church and that was when Bardem was blessing her. His character is so unnecessary in the film, that I was practically falling asleep during his scenes, something I never thought would have happened in a Bardem movie. Not only was the role wrong for him, no actor could have made sense to his plot in this film.
To The Wonder is mighty magnificent to look at and Kurylenko leads the film with a strength and poise, but Malick’s melodramatic screenplay cheapens its lovely visuals and talented actors.