Speaking of which, Chalamet might be the movie’s greatest weakness. It’s not that Chalamet is bad in the role, and it’s commendable that he’s trying a more silly performance outside of his comfort zone. The chief problem is that Chalamet’s attempts at being goofy and quirky don’t ever feel genuine. Chalamet desperately wants us to believe him, from his delivery of, “So quiet up, and listen down. No, strike that, reverse it,” to asking Noodle how she likes her chocolate with an unnatural cranking of his neck, “Dark, white, nutty, absolutely insane?” But it always rings false.
Throughout the entire film, Chalamet certainly has charisma, and he’s not unlikeable, but it never feels like he truly becomes Willy Wonka, and his performance is like a school play version of the character or a “Saturday Night Live” sketch adaptation. While there are moments of touching emotion for Chalamet that work beautifully, thanks to the backstory involving his mother (played in flashbacks by Sally Hawkins), the signature traits of Wonka lack authenticity, and it takes a lot of enchantment out of the movie’s wonder.
Thankfully, the supporting cast of “Wonka” makes up for Chalamet’s void. They might even be part of the reason that Chalamet’s performance doesn’t pop as much as it should. Everyone from Olivia Colman to the trio that makes up the cartoonish chocolate cartel knows that they’re in a fantastical musical that follows in the footsteps of the recent “Matilda” adaptation, and they play up their characters with just the right amount of comedy. It should come as no surprise that Hugh Grant is a standout as an Oompa Loompa (not all the Oompa Loompas either, just one). Grant’s wry but pointed delivery makes for an entertaining foil to Wonka, and he even gets some of the movie’s most blatant callbacks to the original (though some of those lines come straight from the books, too). But honestly, the supporting characters are all so good that Wonka only feels like the film’s star by default.
“Wonka” loses points among the supporting cast by putting Keegan-Michael Key in an increasingly large fat suit, as the chief of police who’s addicted to the chocolate that the cartel uses to pay him for his corrupt acts in law. Though the script doesn’t actively take jabs at his size through insulting dialogue, his increasing weight is clearly played up for laughs. There’s certainly a way this plot element could have been executed comedically without using a character’s weight as a punchline, but this is a flaw that goes all the way back to Roald Dahl’s writing, and it’s a shame that the filmmaker who gave us the kindhearted “Paddington” films couldn’t avoid it.