Expectations were high in 2010 when legendary filmmaker Terrence Malick came to shoot a movie in and around Bartlesville, where the director of Badlands and Days of Heaven had grown up and where his parents still reside.
But judging by its recent screenings at film festivals in Venice and Toronto, Malick’s To the Wonder might not be coming to a theater near you anytime soon. Like The Tree of Life, the what-the-hell-did-I-just-see arthouse flick he released last year, To the Wonder sounds like it might have been written by a bong.
It appears to bear the indelible stamp of the famously mysterious Malick. Star Ben Affleck appears to have only a handful of lines, while Jessica Chastain and Rachel Weisz didn’t even make the movie’s final cut.
“To the Wonder makes The Tree of Life look like a Noel Coward play,” wrote Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman, calling it “the work of someone who now sees himself as a holy poet of the cinema.”
Still, Gleiberman found enough to admire about it. Others were less kind.
From the Toronto film fest, The Hollywood Reporter noted, “Even fans of … The Tree of Life last year were unforgiving in dismissing the love story [of To the Wonder]. As one observer cracked, ‘You either hate it, or you hate it.’”
Then there was Jeffrey Wells of popular film site hollywood-elsewhere.com. Proclaiming it an “almost comical current of fuck-you nothingness,” he said the movie made him determined to “never, ever, visit Bartlesvillle, Oklahoma.” So determined that he put that sentence in bold.
“It’s basically The Tree of Life 2: Oklahoma Depression,” Wells groused. “It’s Malick sitting next to you and gently whispering in your ear, ‘You wanna leave? Go ahead. Go on, it’s okay, I don’t care … do what you want. But you can also stay.’”