My Wonderful Wanda is such a trip, you’re better off not knowing much about the movie ahead of time so you can just let writer-director, Bettina Oberli, take you for a ride. Because, oh, what a ride it is.
This comedy of manners – one of my favorite expressions because it often refers to people who basically have none – focuses on the Wegmeister-Gloors, a wealthy and totally dysfunctional family cloistered away in a stunning lakeside villa in Switzerland. Bedridden patriarch, Josef (André Jung), has suffered a stroke and is being cared for by the title character (Agnieszka Grochowska), who has left her own young children back in Poland with her parents so she can earn money to send home to them.
We want to know more about Wanda – What’s her back story? How did she end up here? – but, like all have-nots working in the houses of the haves, her role is simply to be there for everyone else. She does the things she’s paid to do, and her actions are only important in how they affect the others.
Matriarch Elsa (Marthe Keller), whose biggest concern is keeping up the family’s reputation, speaks lovingly of her husband in public but has basically handed over all responsibility for him to Wanda. Their two grown children are immature and entitled, and each member of the family is so self-absorbed, it takes a long time to feel empathy for any of them.
But, thanks to Oberli, we ultimately do.
Wanda’s two worlds merge in a jaw-dropping turn of events that’s shocking, funny, sad, and destined to change everyone’s lives. Secrets are revealed, tears are shed, a cow enters the picture. In a great scene, Elsa and her daughter get drunk together and dance to Nancy Sinatra.
Oberli has created a satire that gets to the heart of family dynamics, privilege, motherhood, class – and lack of it.
In so many ways, My Wonderful Wanda is pretty wonderful.