Film Critic: Stephen ‘Spling’ Aspeling
Wonderlus is an immersive, moody and soul-searching ensemble romance comedy drama featuring a next generation South African cast. Written and directed by Johan Cronje, the film takes place at a country wedding ceremony. As the event falls to pieces and champagne bubbles dissipate, a disillusioned groom discovers he may have made the biggest and best mistake of his life. Starting with a similar verve to The Hangover’s blurry recollection of the previous day’s events, the story unfurls to reveal two whirlwind romances as the puzzle pieces fall into place.
Centred on themes around following your heart and living in the moment, Wonderlus has a rare maturity, showing great restraint in conveying a heartfelt and realistic love story. This gem of a film plays like a local version of The Big Chill, pivoting from a single location and delving into the lives of its varied wedding guests. Discussing falling in and out of love, the characters wax lyrical. There’s an inherent wanderlust to this depiction of the restless 20s as kids find themselves and struggle to settle into the next chapter of adulthood as the prospect of marriage and having their own kids sets in.
Cronje creates an upbeat and heartfelt environment for his charming and entertaining ensemble, coaxing an authentic and nostalgic atmosphere. Having a firm grasp on his story, the actors follow-through on good casting calls with real on-screen chemistry, maintaining a feisty undercurrent with a sense of relational tension. A fine cast, each more than capable of taking on lead roles in their own capacity, it’s led by Edwin van der Walt, Simoné Nortmann, Stiaan Smith, Francois Jacobs, Mila Guy and Lea Vivier. Edwin van der Walt has an earthy and honest sincerity, playing opposite Lea Vivier whose screen presence serves her well as an enigmatic and free-spirited wedding waiter.
The screenplay has a spontaneity carried forth by Cronje’s firm direction in the film’s soulful out-workings. Keeping a foot on the ground, Wonderlus remains real and relatable through its mix of flawed yet hopeful characters, who are just trying to do the right thing. Set on a lush wine estate and opting to use older vehicles and classic choices when it comes to fashion, the ensemble drama retains an evergreen quality. While aiming for a timeless feel in terms of visuals, the modern soundtrack gives it a cool edge and uplifting tone.
This elegantly wasted feel is carried through in the crisp visuals, allowing the camera to glide. Swathing audiences in the world of Wonderlus, flashbacks are relatively seamless, imbuing and maintaining the wistful air. Wonderlus leans into its sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll vibration as the purity of an impending wedding disintegrates into more hedonistic pursuits. While the rules bend along with the alcohol, the film maintains a sense of dignity as reckless and wild as things get. A fly-on-the-wall sense of intimacy gives an all-access pass to the tricky terrain around morality and emotional turmoil, yet Wonderlus holds composure.
As effective as Wonderlus is in servicing its atmosphere, mood and array of fine performances with an undercurrent of cool, it falters in the third act. Coming in to land its primary whirlwind romance after a great build-up with moments of brilliance, the net result seems indecisive and underwhelming. Whether forced to a rushed resolution or an attempt at a thought-provoking ellipsis, the muddled ending doesn’t quite jell – leaving Wonderlus on a downbeat, open-ended and wistful note.
This Wonderlus review was first published at SPL!NG.