Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar review: Wes Anderson’s oddest film yet

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar: A Cinematic Ode to Roald Dahl

This review offers a unique perspective on Wes Anderson’s latest film, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, which premiered at the 2023 Venice International Film Festival. Set to release in September, this film showcases Anderson’s artistic flourishes and pays homage to renowned author Roald Dahl.

Anderson’s Artistic Range

Prior to The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Anderson delighted audiences with the charming and melancholic Asteroid City earlier this year. Presenting his signature pop-up book style, Anderson embarked on a journey to explore themes of grief with restrained brilliance.

Henry Sugar, Anderson’s second film release of the year, takes a different approach. This adaptation of a 70-page story captures the essence of Dahl’s work like no other, making it an exceptional page-to-screen translation. By incorporating multi-layered storytelling and whimsical imagination, Anderson breathes life into Dahl’s narrative.

A Unique Script

Anderson’s experimental use of Dahl’s text sets The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar apart. Rather than using the story as a basis for his script, Anderson turns the prose into the script itself. The characters embody the plot while reciting the narrative word-for-word, even looking directly into the camera as though reading the story aloud to the audience.

Unconventional as it may sound, this approach infuses the film with a rapid-fire energy. Anderson’s cast went so far as to memorize the entire story, delivering it in continuous, unbroken bursts. The sets, adorned with flats and painted backdrops, add to the feeling of a stage production cleverly captured in a single take.

The Story within the Story

Although the title suggests that the film revolves around gambler Henry Sugar, it is actually the “wonderful story” within the film that takes center stage. Narrated by Ralph Fiennes, the story features Sugar stumbling upon a doctor’s journal documenting the extraordinary abilities of an Indian man named Imdad Khan.

As the story unfolds, different characters introduce new layers of the narrative, each accompanied by a transformation of the setting. Stagehands swiftly replace backdrops, and stylized matte paintings serve as representations of various locations. This dynamic approach, combined with humor and the occasional break of the fourth wall, keeps the film energetically engaging.

A Creative Collaboration

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar is not only a magnificent tribute to Dahl but also a testament to Anderson’s artistry. Through the cross-pollination of actors, who assume multiple roles within the story, the film highlights the interwoven nature of storytelling and the personal touch each author brings.

Furthermore, Anderson’s distinct style defies imitation. While many may try to replicate his work using AI or social media platforms, they lack the depth of influences and the ability to create a truly personal and cinematic vision. The film serves as a reminder of Anderson’s unique talent and the profound impact of inspiration on the creative process.

A Glimpse into Anderson’s Process

Although The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar remains loyal to its source material, it also offers a glimpse into Anderson’s creative process. It captures the artist’s interpretation of reading the story and imagining his own version of it. This short film beautifully portrays the power of inspiration and serves as a testament to Anderson’s artistic vision.

Don’t miss the enchanting premiere of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar on Netflix on September 27th.