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Dan's Review: "Wonder" gives hope to a cynical world

Nov 17, 2017 01:58AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts in Wonder - © 2017 Lionsgate.

Wonder (Lionsgate)

Rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language.

Starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin, Crystal Lowe, Sonia Braga, Millie Davis, Izabela Vidovic, Danielle Rose Russell, Ali Liebert, Nadji Jeter. Elle McKinnon, Bryce Gheisar, Laura Mozgovaya, Daveed Diggs, Noah Jupe, Kyle Harrison Breitkopf, William Dickinson, James Hughes, Ty Consiglio.

Written by Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad and Stephen Chbosky, based on the novel by R.J. Palacio.

Directed by Stephen Chbosky.

GRADE: A-

REVIEW:

Growing up is tough for kids with disabilities or deformities. It’s also tough for most kids, who deal with any number of insecurities that are less conspicuous. That’s the theme of Wonder, the film adaptation of R. J. Palacio’s novel, the story of a brave boy whose face is disfigured by several surgeries to fix deformities from birth. 

Jacob Tremblay plays Auggie, the boy who is starting the fifth grade after being home-schooled by his mother Isabel (Julia Robert) in years prior. Insecure about his scarred face, Auggie braves the tempest of stares, pointing and bullies that poke fun at his appearance. Despite encouragement from his dad (Owen Wilson) and patience of his teenage sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), Auggie begins to lose hope until he makes a friend in Jack Will (Noah Jupe). Meanwhile, the focus of the story shifts to people around Auggie, giving perspective of their lives and how they are affected by his challenges. One such perspective is Via and the loss of her friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) who has moved on, being part of the “cool, popular” crowd. She also finds a love interest in Justin (Nadji Jeter) by joining the school theater group. Another viewpoint comes from Miranda, who is dealing with family problems of her own, while feeling a special attachment to Auggie and his ideal nuclear family. It’s an interesting angle to move the focus away from the boy with the deformity and see how it affects the people who love and care for him. As far as the story goes, there isn’t much of a plot, other than how Auggie deals with the school bully (Bryce Gheisar), despite the efforts of a kind teacher (Daveed Diggs) and the school principal, Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin). 

Wonder is a very moving and heart-felt examination of the better part of humanity; perhaps too sweet for jaded realists, even if you believe (as I do) that people are mostly good. Auggie’s tale, despite its focus on an incredible deformity, works because the main character is surrounded by an idyllic set of circumstances and people. His parents say all the right things when confronted by bullies. His sister, despite being practically ignored, is selfless to a fault. These conditions make Wonder seem more like fantasy to the cynics of the world, but it’s also true that real heroes emerge in the face of such difficulties. Perhaps such optimistic outcomes are the exceptions, but I like to think it’s a 50-50 split.

The performances of Roberts, Wilson and Vidovic are delightfully complimentary to the young Tremblay, who already has an esteemed resume’, including an Oscar nomination (Room). Other supporting actors round out a quality ensemble, especially Noah Jupe as Auggie’s best friend.  

Notwithstanding any real tragic conflict in Wonder, it’s good to know that sometimes the good guys win. In a world that focuses on cynicism, death and tragedy, Wonder may be the right message at the right time.

 

Wonder Trailer