Friday Flicks: Is Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder Wonderful?

TIME breaks down which films to see and which to avoid this weekend.

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Mary Cybulski / RedBud Pictures

To the Wonder

It says much about how highly regarded was the legendary film critic Roger Ebert, who sadly passed away last week at the age of 70, that his final ever review is generating publicity. The film is Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder, which tells the story of Marina (Olga Kurylenko) and Neil (Ben Affleck), who meet in France and move to Oklahoma to start a life together. Marina becomes friends with a priest and fellow expatriate (Javier Bardem), while Neil rekindles a relationship with childhood sweetheart, Jane (Rachel McAdams).

In a directorial career stretching some 40 years, it’s incredible to think that this is only Malick’s sixth feature (although along with Tree of Life and The New World, it’s the 69-year-old’s third movie in less than a decade).

To be sure, the movie isn’t eliciting rave reviews from everyone. TIME’s Richard Corliss manages to see both sides of the debate. “For spectators dulled by the midget movies of an artistically timid era, the film may be a chore. For those on Malick’s rarified wavelength, it’s a wonder,” he concludes. But New York magazine calls the film “generalized woo-woo — and self-parody” while the Observer turns up its nose, noting that “the characters have little substance or development” and the “dialogue is minimal and deliberately semi-audible.” Meanwhile, the Daily Mail delivers an outright pan, calling the film “a prolonged exercise in directorial self-pleasuring;” the real wonder, it states, is “that To The Wonder ever found a release.”

But if there was one thing we could rely on when it came to Ebert, it was his refusal to run with the crowd. In an unabashed thumbs up, his final words both acknowledge Malick’s faults while embracing the film as a whole.

There will be many who find “To the Wonder” elusive and too effervescent. They’ll be dissatisfied by a film that would rather evoke than supply. I understand that, and I think Terrence Malick does, too. But here he has attempted to reach more deeply than that: to reach beneath the surface, and find the soul in need.

RICHARD CORLISS ON ROGER EBERT: Farewell to a Film Legend and Friend

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