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In a time desperate for kindness, ‘Wonder’ delivers in spades

November 17, 2017

In my mind I’ve spent some time over the last couple of days trying to figure out which direction most of my family members and friends that see “Wonder” will go.

 

It will be either the “as always the book is better” route (I literally just found out there’s a ridiculously popular book, or book series, the film is based on), or the “this is the most wonderful, uplifting movie I’ve seen since ‘The Blind Side.’”

 

If I were laying odds on it, I’d classify it as a pick’em.

 

The one and only thing I’m fully confident of is that I’ll hear endlessly about how sweet and positive it is … and I’m pretty OK with that.

Julia Roberts as Isabel and Jacob Tremblay as Auggie in “Wonder.” (Photo by Dale Robinette. Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment)

In “Wonder,” Jacob Tremblay stars as Auggie, a soon-to-be middle-schooler whose facial deformity has kept him in the hospital and out of the traditional classroom for his entire life.

 

With Auggie’s surgeries behind him, and viewing middle school as a time when all of the kids would be starting somewhere new, his parents, Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson), decide the time has come for homeschooling to end and time in the traditional classroom to begin.

 

But because kids are kids and can be cruel, Auggie’s transition to “normal” life isn’t always the smoothest. He must navigate the normal pitfalls of adolescence while standing out from the crowd.

 

On the surface, “Wonder” is pretty standard coming-of-age fare, but there is a really interesting wrinkle that director Stephen Chbosky uses to tell the (apparently) popular and familiar story.

 

Rather than telling the story only from Auggie’s point of view, Chbosky tells the story from multiple perspectives.

 

Auggie’s POV is obviously there, but we also get to see how the story plays out from the view of his older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), his best friend, Jack Will (Noah Jupe), and Via’s best friend/Auggie’s de facto other older sister, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell).

 

I have no idea if this is how R.J. Palacio’s book deals with the story or if it’s a tactic employed exclusively for the film, but it really works well. Yes, a story about a young boy finding happiness and his place in the world is always going to have an audience, but by adding an interesting wrinkle it makes the story more appealing to those without families or those who have read the book(s) – the obvious target demos here.

Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) and Jack Will (Noah Jupe) in “Wonder.” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate Entertainment)

Also on the positive side is a strong cast – Tremblay continues to excel in dramatic roles (i.e. “Room”) despite being only 11; Roberts, who I’m generally not a fan of, gives a fine performance as Auggie’s supportive (maybe a little too much) mother; and Wilson, who I like but don’t feel is in his sweet spot with drama, plays the caring, but still somewhat child-like father. We’re not talking Oscar for anyone here, but still solid performances.

 

“Wonder” is sweet, probably a little too much for my tastes, but it conveys a positive message, which, given the age we’re living in, most people could use.

 

★★★1/2 of ★★★★★

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