The week between Christmas and New Year’s is famously a black hole of structure. Many of us are bumbling around our childhood homes wearing weird clothes and wondering whether it is 4 a.m. or 4 p.m. Others are floundering in a haze of child-care-less chaos. Some unfortunate souls have to work, lonely tumbleweeds in a dust bowl of minimally staffed hours. No matter where you are, chances are you will spend the next five days in a bloblike existence powered by leftover sugar cookies and ham. And, while this state of brain rot is generally a welcome break, sometimes the lack of guidance — re: what to do — becomes deafening. This year, we have been gifted one sickeningly charming piece of cinema to solve all that: Wonka.
Did I want to like Wonka? Dear God, no. Nobody asked Hollywood to imagine a backstory for a problematic chocolatier, especially one that glosses over his maybe-enslavement of the Oompa Loompas. You know who certainly did not need to be dragged into it? Our sensitive slender king Timothée Chalamet. Hugh Grant won’t stop complaining about how horrible being an Oompa Loompa was. Based on all promotional materials, I was expecting the vibe to be cloying and heavy on bad punnage.
Well, I’m humbled to report that Wonka is a goddamned delight. (I’m not the only one who thinks so.) The plot is mostly beside the point, but I’ll tell you anyway: A young, lithe Willy Wonka arrives in some undefined metropolitan corner of Europe with a tattered top hat and a dream. He meets many an obstacle in his plucky quest to join this fictional city’s elite cadre of chocolate shops, but obviously he and a ragtag group of Dickensian misfits win the day. (Don’t worry, you’ll barely have to think about the fact that he will later shutter his factory and host five children on a psychotic daylong tour, ultimately bullying one of them into taking over the business.) Their journey is filled with kooky little flourishes — a gorgeous friendly giraffe here, a dose of umbrella choreography there.
With the one exception of a recurring fat-suit joke that is deeply unnecessary, the predominant feelings you will have during this film are hunger and warmth. The songs are momentarily pleasant but entirely forgettable, save for the “Oompa Loompa” bop we already know and love. Chalamet is brimming with whimsy as the titular Wonka, channeling the performance flair of 1,000 La Guardia sophomores. When he tenderly whispers, “Here we go, mama” for the third time, you will cry a tiny bit. Even Grant’s CGI dancing is enjoyable.
Crucially, Wonka will not make you think. There are no twisty plot developments, no time jumps, no grand mysteries. The message of the movie is to have dreams and enjoy chocolate. Over the course of two hours, your mind will be whittled into a smooth, shiny truffle that tastes like silver linings and golden opportunities — the ideal shape for this directionless holiday limbo. Do you hear that sound? It’s Willy Wonka and his magical cane, tip-tapping their way into your heart this December 28.