Films out this week: Wonder, Happy End, and The Man Who Invented Christmas

 
James Luxford

Wonder (PG), Director: Stephen Chbosky
★★★☆☆

Jacob Tremblay stole our hearts in Room, and here dons a job-lot of prosthetics to do exactly the same as a Auggie, a young man with facial deformities squaring up to life in a new school.

What sounds like a slush-fest of the highest order, particularly when you factor in vanilla rom-com royalty Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as Auggie’s parents – succeeds by taking a three dimensional approach to Auggie, exploring how his situation affects those around him. We see the journey undertaken by his would-be best buddy, who caves in to peer pressure, and that of his sister Via (Izabella Vidovic), who’s used to putting others first while struggling with her own emotional issues. The avoidance of a Good vs Bad narrative in each of these instances makes the more mawkish moments easier to swallow, although every problem is wrapped up so neatly it does lack a sense of realism.

Wonder is a prime of example of how Hollywood movies can be a picture of the world as we would like it be, not as it is. Still, it’s hard to be too critical of a film with such good intentions.

The Man Who Invented Christmas (PG), Director: Bharat Nalluri​
★★★★☆

December movies are more about lightsabers than sleigh bells these days, but a little traditional Christmas cheer still goes a long way.

Beauty and The Beast star Dan Stevens plays Charles Dickens in this story of the inspiration behind A Christmas Carol. While films about authors have a habit of being unutterably dull – Becoming Jane, Miss Potter, Anonymous, The Raven – Stevens turns on the charm and makes the creative process seem positively enthralling. Instead of dry montages of him looking out the window or scribbling with a quill, the characters appear to him as he thinks them up, most notably Christopher Plummer hamming it up as Scrooge. Dickens’ fear of poverty and his fractious relationship with his father (Jonathan Pryce) add peril to proceedings, but mostly it’s just a fun Christmas romp. Everyone involved looks like they’re having the time of their lives, and it’s infectious.

It’s probably lightyears from what actually happened, but who cares? The Man Who Invented Christmas pumps new life into a story that’s been done to death, adding context and humour along the way. It’s hard to say humbug to that.

Happy End (15), Director: Michael Haneke
★★★☆☆

Death, infidelity, and the refugee crisis... Yep, Michael Haneke’s back. As you might imagine, his follow up to 2012’s Oscar winning Amour isn’t exactly a barrel of laughs, and while there’s a lot to like about this caustic satire, it’s not quite the return many were hoping for.

Amour’s Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trignitant return as members of an affluent family in Calais whose troubles are exacerbated by the arrival of nihilistic, depressed pre-teen Eve, played magnificently by Fantine Harduin. Two shocking scenes bookend the story, cleverly framed through the cold stare of social media. The bit in between, however, is disjointed and directionless, with the upper classes sent up in a way that’s neither urgent nor new. There’s a wilful contrariness at work here that keeps Happy End from having the impact of Haneke’s previous films.

Its status as a sort-of sequel to Amour only puts the differences between the two films in sharper focus, while its bleak outlook makes it harder to see beyond its flaws.

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