There is a new coming-of-age movie out that has the spirit of a classic fairytale but with modern sensibilities. W tells the story of Violet, a very inquisitive and naive girl who believes that she is a witch. Her family life is not the greatest. Her sister Savannah aspires to be a model and is overly concerned about her body image. Violet’s mom Chloe never smiles like she used to, and Violet figures it may be because her dad Adam spends all the time on the internet. While her sister auditions to be a model for a fashion icon named Yana, Violet wanders into a nearby forest and comes across a witch named Hazel. Violet bonds with Hazel through their mutual connection to nature and magic. Soon Violet is on a journey that will change her and her family forever.
Wonderwell is a fanciful female-led story that is sure to spark the imagination of many young people. It will also spark conversations about puberty, self-image, family dynamics, social behaviors and more. Director Vlad Marsavin weaves these themes into the tapestry of a fantasy world that includes floating gold faces, extra large venus fly traps, and flowers that seem to be able to move. All the elements looked fantastic thanks to the special effects which helps immerse you into Violet’s world. Whether you are in the green gardens of the Paradiso or the coldly modern Inferno, it all looks great thanks to Cinematographer Kenji Katori. The gorgeous score by William Ross is part John Willams and part Hans Zimmer that not only enhances the emotions of each scene but manages to shine on its own.
The cast also shines. Carrie Fisher puts in a solid, heartwarming performance that reminds us how much we miss her talent. Her Witch Hazel had the perfect balance of kindness, sympathy and strength. Rita Ora plays Yana, the Yin to Hazel’s Yang. They only get one major scene together but it was my favorite scene; powerful and tension-filled. Yana is a dark, cold character who has a commanding presence everytime she is on screen. Ora plays her perfectly. She is definitely a villain you will love to hate. Young newcomer Kira Mileward holds her own with the veterans. While her line delivery was rough at times, her charisma and energy helped make up for it. She had great chemistry with the other performers, particularly with Carrie Fisher and Nell Tiger Free who plays Savannah. Free makes a perfect jump from a rebellious teen to someone questioning their choices. She uses a lot of facial expressions effectively in her performance to convey this transition. You can see she is torn between being a cold-hearted model and a loving sister.
There is an interesting parallel between the Hazel and Yana relationship and Violet and Savannah relationship. It is as if we are seeing how Hazel and Yana started out through the younger characters. It is not just reflected in how the characters are written, but also in their costuming. Costume Designer Nicoletta Ercole designs were both visually striking and helped enhance the personality of the characters. Violet and Hazel wore soft, warm, earth toned clothing while Yana’s clothing was far colder, abstract and made up of mostly black. You could tell Ercole had a lot of fun designing Yana’s clothing line. I could see any one of these designs on the runway in real life.
The only issue I had with the film was with the ending. I could have used a bit more explanation on how the magic worked. Specifically, in the way things are resolved. I understand that the main focus is Violet dealing with the changes that occur with getting older, so some aspects of the story do not get as much attention. Still, I would have liked a little more in the rules of the world and why the resolution worked the way it did. I don’t need everything spelled out but the ending did leave me with a few questions.
Wonderwell is a magical, entertaining and sometimes thought-provoking family film. It does not shy away from presenting some heavy topics like infidelity and the sexualization of young women but it doesn’t get too far into the weeds on these topics. The ninety-six minute run time breezes by and the overall production value makes it worth a watch. 4 out of 5 stubs.
Ever since I became a parent, I learned that you should never underestimate the perspective of a child. Their view of the world and how things, like relationships, are supposed to work is pure. This idea, along with others, are front and center in the short film Who’s Watching Who? written and directed by Chris Levine. We meet Trevor, a rather precocious ten-year old who is being watched by his Uncle Nick. Nick has been down and out due to a major event in his life. Over the course of the weekend, Nick finds it a challenge to reign in his young nephew. During the same weekend, Trevor helps Nick gain a more hopeful perspective on life.
Who’s Watching Who? Is a touching, funny, and grounded story with a lot of heart. Chris Levine is also in front of the camera as Uncle Nick. I loved his approach to Nick, this guy who really has not been around kids much and just feels like he is in over his head. There is a palpable underlying sadness that seems to fade as he spends more time with Trevor. Alex Lizzul’s Trevor is very charismatic and just adorable. His interactions with Nick came across as a genuine nephew/uncle relationship. If you ever sat down with someone who is Trevor’s age, you know they have opinions and are willing to share them. The two really play off each other well which is important for a character driven story like this.
While not trying to break any new ground, Who’s Watching Who? strengthens the idea that kids know more than we think they do and can help us through the tough times as an adult. I loved the heart and spirit of this short film and think it is worth catching if it is playing at a festival near you.
I have been reviewing films since high school. I love discussing films with those who share my passion for them. I also do video reviews on YouTube and on my podcast.