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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Catherine Shoard

Happy new year: will cinema finally cheer up in 2023?

Margot Robbie as Barbie, a DayGlo romcom directed by Greta Gerwig.
Toy story … Margot Robbie as Barbie, a DayGlo romcom directed by Greta Gerwig. Photograph: Entertainment Pictures/Alamy

Cinema last year was a tangle of family angst. Films conceived and shot in lockdown leaned hard on small casts and big tears. The best movie of 2022 – Charlotte Wells’s Aftersun, about a final father/daughter holiday – was one example. So too, more surprisingly, was the biggest box office performer of the year: Top Gun Maverick, the story of a middle-aged teacher trying to patch things up with his quasi-son.

Some of 2023’s early offerings, those dramas jostling for awards contention, fall into this bracket: The Whale, The Son, The Fabelmans, Empire of Light. All are tales of dysfunction and domestic betrayal (and, for the last two at least, hangovers of the 2020 worry that cinemas might shut forever).

But peer further into the schedules and the landscape looks different. The horizons widen and the colour palette perks up. It’s possible to imagine seeing three films in a row that don’t all leave you a sobbing wreck. And this is because as Covid concerns waned a little, lockdowns lifted and the end of the world began looking marginally less imminent, so studios gained the confidence to greenlight movies a bit more upbeat.

From left … Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Keeley Karsten, Julia Butters and Sophia Kopera in The Fabelmans.
From left … Gabriel LaBelle, Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Keeley Karsten, Julia Butters and Sophia Kopera in The Fabelmans. Photograph: Merie Weismiller Wallace/AP

Wonka is one such film. Paul King’s follow-up to Paddington 2 stars Timothée Chalamet as a youthful incarnation of the chocolatier, in an origin story about which little is known – something about how he first met the Oompa Loompas – but much is hoped. Olivia Colman, who also stars, along with assorted Paddington graduates such as Sally Hawkins, Matt Lucas and Simon Farnaby (who again co-writes), said in an interview earlier this month that the film is “such a treat” and its star is “magical” and “so beautiful”.

The Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon has written original songs for the film, and Simon Rich – a very funny New Yorker humorist – has punched up the script. Even Wonka (or Chalamet) skeptics will have a hard time doubting this one; after all, everyone was dreading Paddington after ominous early posters and trailers, but King’s aesthetic – cheery, precisely composed, twee-embracing but emotionally authentic – was so winning the movie took nearly $300m and breathed new life into the UK family film industry.

One director to whom King has often doffed his sou’wester is Wes Anderson (himself prepping another Roald Dahl adaptation, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, starring Benedict Cumberbatch). Anderson will this summer also serve up a grand slice of Technicolor confectionery with Asteroid City. It is set during a Junior Stargazer convention held in a fictional American desert town, the premise – and madly stacked ensemble cast – make Moonrise Kingdom comparisons hard to avoid. Anderson regulars Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Jarvis Cocker, Jeffrey Wright and Edward Norton are joined by newbies Margot Robbie, Rupert Friend, Matt Dillon, Bryan Cranston, Tom Hanks and Steve Carell.

Robbie also stars in another DayGlo US indie adventure out next July: Barbie, the eagerly awaited Mattel adaptation written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Shots of Robbie and Ryan Gosling (one of many Kens in the movie) rollerblading in vivid pink spandex and wildly white smiles sent the internet into spasms of ecstasy and revisionist thinking last summer.

Elsewhere there are signs that fripperies and plain old fun are back in fashion, after two years of slog and sadness. Channing Tatum is oiling up once again to drop his kecks for Magic Mike’s Last Dance, while Jennifer Lawrence moves on from brain tumour drama Causeway to R-rated comedy No Hard Feelings (in which she plays a woman who answers a Craigslist ad placed by a mother who wants her son to lose his virginity before college).

Even Luca Guadagnino – of Bones and All and Call Me By Your Name – is getting in on the act, directing, of all things, a US sports comedy starring Zendaya. Cannibals are being traded for cheerleaders. Little women for beaming dollies. Let’s hope real life can keep pace.

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