“Just another creep in a trench coat” – Wonka Review
Alice Patterson reviews Wonka, discussing the controversy before its release and her impressions following viewing the film on opening day.
I’m not quite sure why I was so immediately filled with dread upon seeing Timothée Chalamet dance his way onto screen in a velvet pink coat and top hat. Perhaps it was the fact that it sounded like Chalamet was doing a bad American accent (despite being American). Maybe it was watching Hugh Grant finally admit defeat and take whatever film offers the biggest paycheque. Nonetheless, there’s no denying that Wonka hasn’t exactly been the most anticipated film of the year – and yet, when I sat down to first write this, I couldn’t quite articulate why.
There’s a lot to unpack as to why people have been so hesitant about Wonka’s success.
The last time the character graced our screens was in the form of Jonny Depp’s eccentric interpretation in the 2005 critically acclaimed classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Considering it was such a critical success, and we live in a culture of endless remakes and prequels, it is unsurprising that people don’t feel the need for another Willy Wonka adaptation.
“He’s [Wonka] definitely a character he [Roald Dahl] felt could exist at different times and different places and… this great storyteller might have not thought this was a terrible idea and be turning in his grave.”Paul King (Director) speaking on Kermode and Mayo’s Take
I can understand why Timothée Chalamet was cast. He has that slightly wacky aura, both on and off-screen – and yet I think the film would’ve been more successful had they chosen to cast someone unknown. From the trailer alone, you can see Chalamet trying to emulate Depp’s success in playing the part. Most notably, you can hear him mimicking that nonsensical inflection Depp spoke with, which made his Willy Wonka so memorable. Chalamet, despite his best efforts – can’t quite pull this off. It sounds unnatural.
“He [Timothée Chalamet] just feels like Willy Wonka, he’s perfect… and it appealed to him to show some of the things [singing and dancing] he learnt as a kid”Paul King (Director) in reference to Timothée Chalamet’s childhood musical performances available on YouTube
It is unfair to place hesitancy around the film entirely on Chalamet’s shoulders, though. According to Simon Heritage of The Guardian – writing almost three years before the film’s release date – all he knew about the film was “the fact that it will be terrible”. Heritage points out that Willy Wonka’s character “only truly [succeeds] when he’s kept within the confines of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Charlie and the other children – and thus the audience – look at Wonka in awe as this enigmatic, fantastical God. Give him a backstory and his uncanny, mad-genius-esque nature is erased in the blink of an eye. Willy Wonka just becomes another creep in a trench coat.
All speculating aside, I took myself to see the film upon its release. I walked into Vue at 10am (and was subsequently congratulated by staff for being the first viewer). After the embarrassment subsided, it is undeniable that the film was a fun, festive cinema trip. While I won’t be giving it a full five stars on Letterboxd, it is not without merit. Keegan Michael Key, it must be said, is the best thing about this movie. Fair warning – it is a movie musical. I hadn’t gleaned this from the trailer, so was slightly taken aback when Chalamet started belting from the get-go.
“When I first met him… he went “People don’t realise, I’m a song and dance man”Simon Farnaby (Screenwriter) quoting Timothée Chalamet (Wonka)
Watching Wonka, I couldn’t help but think about whether you’d consider it a ‘children’s film’ or not. In all fairness, it is rated PG, so I wasn’t exactly expecting graphic violence or nudity. Something about it – the dialogue, maybe, or the somewhat superficially sentimental themes – felt pandering and juvenile. The quality of children’s films has dwindled over the past decade or so. We’ve had some great contributions interspersed – like 2015’s Inside Out or 2017’s Paddington 2 (directed and written by the team behind Wonka). Long gone are the days, though, when the family genre had something for the entire family, not just the children. The issue doesn’t spring from translating a classic children’s novel onto the screen either. The 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory manages to nod towards some of the stories’ darker, psychedelic undertones while keeping within the children & family genre.
Long story short, Wonka is a charmingly whimsical stocking-stuffer of a film. Scratch the surface and there’s not much underneath, but the first layer is satisfying and tasty enough.
Wonka released on Friday 8th December, currently with an 84% score among critics on Rotten Tomatoes.