Review by C.J. Bunce
Two Wes Anderson movies in one year? How is that possible? What dark magic did Anderson conjure to deliver two solid pieces of cinema in one year? The answer turns out to be “one is fairly short.” At about forty minutes, Anderson’s tightly edited adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is–no question–another masterpiece. How often do we cry out that the latest streaming series or movie is So. Darned. Unnecessarily. Long. Every day, right? Anderson takes the already sharp writing of Dahl–feeling very much like the writing style and content of Ian Fleming, especially his Chitty Chitty Bang Bang–and doesn’t pad it. He lets his actors–stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, and Dev Patel–deliver that dialogue in rapido, and the result is a story told about storytelling by one of cinema’s best storytellers, based of course on the writing of one of the 20th century’s best storytellers.
Watch The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar now on Netflix and you, too, will be thinking, “Ben Kingsley doesn’t have enough Oscars.” It’s one of four short films by Anderson adapting Dahl short stories that are arriving this weekend on Netflix.
After the wonderful Asteroid City (reviewed here at borg), Anderson created in this film a one-half sized version of his normal fare, which is decidedly and happily never normal. The question you’re left with is, “does size matter?” Interesting characters include a man who sees without his eyes and a man too rich for his own good. Both are perfectly cast. Each of Cumberbatch, Kingsley, Fiennes, and Patel play multiple characters. It’s not hidden from the viewer, it just adds to the fun.
The pace is non-stop. Viewers might realize 20 minutes in–at the halfway point, if not sooner–that Anderson has kept us all completely engaged. He has created a unique edge-of-your-seat quality that will keep everyone hanging on to the end. It’s not to find out who or why something happened so much as how is Anderson (and before him, Dahl) going to wrap all this up in the end? Not to reveal a spoiler here, but “very well” is the answer.
And of course, the visuals, those muted tones, the moving cardboard sets that make you feel like you’re watching a British sequel to Our Town, Anderson’s signature breaking the third wall to address the audience directly, and the familiar music style is all here for fans of the great auteur’s ouvre.
It’s different and grand, even if… shorter… than you’re expecting. Find The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar now streaming on Netflix. It’s one of four short films by Anderson adapting Dahl short stories that are arriving this weekend on Netflix. The Swan arrives September 28, The Ratcatcher arrives September 29, and Poison arrives September 30.