Saturday 25 August 2018

Movie Review: Wonder (2017)

A tender family drama about fitting in, Wonder is heartwarming and sweet, if at times too sugary.

August "Auggie" Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) was born with a genetic deformity resulting in hideously contorted facial features. A series of operations somewhat help, but Auggie is most comfortable wearing a toy space helmet in public. Now that Auggie is 10 years old, his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) insists he needs to switch from homeschooling to join the public school system and adjust to being around other kids. His loving father Nate (Owen Wilson) and eternally patient sister Olivia "Via" (Izabela Vidovic) are tentatively supportive.

At school Auggie experiences the expected bullying, many stares, but also support and friendship, including from classmate Jack Will (Noah Jupe). The principal Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin) does his best to provide a normal environment. Meanwhile Via is experiencing troubles of her own, as her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) is suddenly and inexplicably aloof and distant.

Directed by Stephen Chbosky and based on the book by R. J. Palacio, Wonder resonates as an eternal story of fitting in. Auggie's challenge is his facial disfigurement, but it may as well be skin colour, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Wonder excels thanks to a well-rounded perspective. The film is not just about Auggie, but also about the family supporting him and the classmates and school eco-system adjusting to his presence, in good and bad ways.

For the most part, Chbosky keeps the emotions real, featuring as many ups as downs. The students in Auggie's classroom are a mix of curious, standoffish, bullies and potential friends, and Auggie has good days and bad days. The adults are refreshingly adult, although the parents of a bully show up late in the film as a reminder of how close the apple falls relative to the tree.

The focus on family dynamics is refreshing. Isabel is the mother who sacrificed everything to support her son, putting her career aspirations on hold in the process. Via is the daughter who had to make space - lots of space - upon the arrival of a younger brother with special needs. Her quiet acceptance of her status and the friendship she continues to offer to Auggie are among the film's highlights. Izabela Vidovic's tender performance is second only to Jacob Tremblay's affecting turn beneath all the make-up.

The film has time for a couple of sub-stories as well, including Auggie's first friend Jack and Via's former friend Miranda, but these narrative threads are less developed.

Wonder does eventually push every button and pull every lever in search of emotional highpoints, and Chbosky opts for plenty of syrup through multiple climaxes featuring a school play, a science project, and school year-end ceremony. While the repetitive crescendos flirt with the tedious line, the film's greatest achievement is in quickly allowing Auggie to be just a kid. He looks different, and thankfully, so does everyone.

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  1. this one was all right, but I was a little underwhelmed and felt especially as Julia Roberts was underutilised. I wanted to see a bit more of her character, Isabelle.

    1. I liked Wonder more than I thought I would. Julia's character was supporting, and she did a fine job, as did all the cast.

    2. her role was nice, but I wished she had more scenes

  2. I LOVED IT!!!


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