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MOVIE REVIEW: ‘White Bird: A Wonder Story’ is a feel-good film that doesn’t stray too far from the formula

There’s a timeliness to the story about the kindness that bloomed in the face of the Nazi fascist regime.

I knew nothing of the 2017 hit film ‘Wonder’ or the graphic novel of the same name that it was based on, so I was coming into the sequel/prequel ‘White Bird: A Wonder Story’ with a clean slate. I didn’t know the context as to why the Julian (Bryce Gheisar, who reprises his role from the first movie) has moved to a new school due to, what we later find out, is an incident of bullying from his previous one. To my surprise, they never expounded on Julian’s past. Apparently, that was done in ‘Wonder.’ For ‘White Bird: A Wonder Story,’ the story revolves around Julian’s grandmother (Helen Mirren), an artist from Paris, who has come to New York as a gallery is giving her a retrospective exhibit. She takes the time to bond with her grandson and shares her story with him, to help him understand what he did that was so wrong.

The grandmother’s story is one set in World War II, a young Sara (Ariella Glasser) witnesses her town slowly change as the Nazi presence gets stronger and stronger within her peaceful, picturesque town in the French countryside. When the Nazis come in full force and try to roundup all the Jews, her teacher and principal try to help her, and the other Jewish kids escape. The boy she likes, Vincent (Jem Matthews) gives them up and while all the other kids are taken, she manages to escape and with the help of the school outcast, the polio-stricken Julien (Orlando Schwerdt), she manages to flee and hide in his barn with the help of Julien’s parents.

As the Nazi occupation in France tightens, Sara’s world becomes extremely small. Her whole life revolves around the empty barn and the regular visits from Julien, who has become her lifeline. To pass the time, Julien shares his schoolwork with her, and they both engage in make-believe games that opens up both their worlds in fantastic ways that cinema can exploit so wonderfully through special effects, camerawork, and great acting.

Gillian Anderson as Vivienne and Ariella Glaser as Sara in White Bird: A Wonder Story. Photo Credit: Larry Horricks

‘White Bird: A Wonder Story’ benefits from strong performances by its young cast. Glasser and Schwerdt are the grounding force that keeps the film charming and engaging. The way their friendship blossoms into love was portrayed with youthful innocence amidst the tension-filled backdrop of Nazi-occupied France. Mirren is always a solid performer, bringing charm to an otherwise standard characterization of the French artist-grandmother figure. Despite the role being that of a narrator to the main story told in flashback, there are hints of a loving, concerned grandmother in the way she relates to Gheisar that adds a little something to the mix. Gillian Anderson doesn’t get to do much as Julien’s mother other than the standard fare of a film of this tone and subject matter.

Gillian Anderson as Vivienne and Ariella Glaser as Sara in White Bird: A Wonder Story. Photo Credit: Larry Horricks

There’s a timeliness to the story about the kindness that bloomed in the face of the Nazi fascist regime. The way people went out of their way to help the Jews during this time of brutal persecution. I can see how the story relates to Julian’s own story from ‘Wonder,’ which I only read about after seeing ‘White Bird: A Wonder Story’ but the way it echoes the current global climate regarding the destruction of Palestinian lives and way of life does not go unnoticed. The film is a straight-up, standard feel-good film that director Marc Foster has quite some success in with films like ‘Finding Neverland’ and ‘A Man Called Otto.’ He manages to take these almost formulaic plot lines and mines them for all its cinematic potential and delivers a film that can be quite predictable but still hits the right buttons.

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This is not a subtle movie with its cheesy lines about kindness and how light can conquer the darkness. It even ends with Mirren’s grandmother character making a speech at the exhibition of her retrospective that allows her to underscore the core message of the film just in case anyone may have missed it. The timing of this film’s released is suspect but for anyone looking for something hopeful, something magical to watch during these dark times, ‘White Bird: A Wonder Story’ is offering itself fully to the audience to address this lack.

My Rating:



White Bird: A Wonder Story is now showing. Check screening times and buy tickets here.

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