Wonder

wonder-rev Wonder  (2017)    Lionsgate/Drama    RT: 113 minutes    Rated PG (thematic elements including bullying, some mild language)    Director: Stephen Chbosky    Screenplay: Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad and Stephen Chbosky    Music: Marcelo Zarvos    Cinematography: Don Burgess    Release date: November 17, 2017 (US)    Cast: Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Izabela Vidovic, Noah Jupe, Danielle Rose Russell, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, Nadji Jeter, Millie Davis, Bryce Gheisar, Ty Consiglio, Elle McKinnon, Ali Liebert, Sonia Braga.

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 Wonder is a pure delight. I absolutely loved it! I had a feeling I would. One of my favorite films of the 80s is Mask starring Eric Stoltz as Rocky Dennis, a teenager with a rare disorder that causes cranial disfigurement. I’ve seen it many times and it always gets to me. That one is based on a true story. Wonder is an adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s 2012 acclaimed novel for children and young teens. I’ve never read it (what else is new?) but now I want to. It centers on a young boy, Auggie Pullman (Tremblay, Room), with a facial deformity navigating his first year in a real school. Let me tell you, this boy truly is a wonder.

 wonder posterAuggie, who suffers from a genetic disorder called Treacher Collins syndrome, has been homeschooled by his mother Isabel (Roberts, Erin Brockovich) all his life. Now that he’s entering fifth grade, his parents feel it’s time he start attending school with other children. He’s understandably nervous and apprehensive about it. He’s self-conscious about his looks. When he goes out, he wears an astronaut helmet so people don’t stare. Kids can be especially cruel. His family, including dad Nate (Wilson, Marley & Me) and older sister Via (Vidovic, Homefront) tries to reassure him; all he wants to do is fit in. It’s difficult. The others kids generally avoid him. One boy, a popular kid named Julian (Gheisar, A Dog’s Purpose), bullies him mercilessly. Others like Jack Will (Jupe, Suburbicon) and Summer (Davis, Orphan Black) befriend him.

 One of the many wonders of Wonder is how it shifts perspectives to tell the story from the POV of other characters. After Auggie’s emotionally trying first day, the movie goes back to the beginning and shows us his sister’s first day of school. She discovers her best friend Miranda (Russell, Aloha) doesn’t want to be her friend anymore for some unknown reason. She also meets a nice boy, Justin (Jeter, Grown Ups 1 & 2), and lies to him about being an only child. We’re also given a glimpse of Jack Will’s home life. He’s a scholarship student from a working-class background and one of three kids selected to give Auggie a tour of Beecher Prep before the school year begins. We get to see their friendship develop as they bond over their appreciation of video games and Star Wars.

 At one point, Via draws a parallel between her domestic situation and how all the planets in our galaxy revolve around the sun. Sun, son- get it? Director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) illustrates this perfectly by shifting the focus around to different supporting players/planets. Isabel has always been the supportive mother. We learn that she dropped everything to care for Auggie including her education. Now that Auggie is in school, she can finally complete her thesis provided she can find a way to retrieve it from a floppy disc. The movie’s only flaw is that Wilson’s character is never fully developed. He doesn’t even get his own chapter (even Miranda gets one). We don’t even know what he does for a living. All we know is that he wears a suit and has an office. I’m guessing he works at the same unnamed workplace as many sitcom dads from the 50s and 60s. His main function in the movie is to be the cool dad who tries to lighten things up with a joke or quip whenever they get too intense. He does have one memorably touching scene that will remind many of his role in Marley & Me.

 The performances in Wonder are very, very good. Tremblay delivered a performance well beyond his years in 2015’s devastating Room. He also did well in the critically-maligned The Book of Henry, a movie that I liked. He is incredible as Auggie, an unusually intelligent child with a knack for science. He’s also a genuinely nice kid. Tremblay never turns him into an object of pity yet still makes you feel compassion for him as he experiences nearly the same growing pains as any other 10-year-old. Overhearing a friend (or somebody you thought was a friend) saying mean things about you can be traumatic for anybody. Roberts and Wilson hit all the right notes as his loving, supportive parents. They hate like hell to see him get hurt but better he learns now than later how the world outside his home works. Vidovic is amazing as the older sister who’s used to her little brother getting all the attention. Just because she’s used to it doesn’t mean she likes it. It’s always at the expense of her own emotional need. She’d like it if, just once, they ask her about her day.

 I’ve become pretty jaded since Mask was released in 1985 but I still bought into Wonder, every minute of it. I still like to watch movies that show the world as a nice place filled with mostly decent people where somebody with disabilities can triumph over adversity (and his own lack of confidence) and win everybody over. Oops, I think I may have dropped a spoiler by implying that Wonder has a happy ending. But I don’t think it really matters if you know that going in; it doesn’t ruin the movie. This movie has its share of clichés from the hip teacher (Diggs, The Get Down) who teaches the kids valuable life lesson through “precepts” written on the blackboard to the uplifting ending that will surely leave many in tears. Wonder manages to keep itself restrained up until this point. The ending it delivers is just the catharsis this kind of movie requires.

 All I can say is that Wonder is simply wonderful. With Thanksgiving weekend coming up, parents will be looking for family-friendly movies to take the kids to see. While I’m sure Pixar’s Coco will be a huge draw, I highly recommend Wonder as top choice for family day at the movies. It teaches a lesson about accepting others. It features a hero worth rooting for. There’s nothing offensive or inappropriate in it. Plus, kids who read the book will surely want to see it. You should definitely see it. Wonder is a winner! 

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