WONDER review by Mark Walters – Stephen Chbosky delivers one of the sweetest films of 2017

WONDER review by Mark Walters – Stephen Chbosky delivers one of the sweetest films of 2017

On the surface, the new film WONDER may appear to be a heartwarming tearjerker that smells very strongly like Oscar bait, and maybe in some ways that’s exactly what it is, but it’s also one of the more relateable and perhaps one of the sweetest movies of the year. Directed by Stephen Chbosky (THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER) and based on the popular book by R.J. Palacio, the film is centered on a young boy named Auggie Pullman living with Treacher Collins Syndrome – a rare condition that results in severe facial differences. Most children with this condition have to undergo countless surgeries just to hear and see well, and it can strongly affect breathing as well. One of the most refreshing aspects of this cinematic story is that it spotlights almost ALL of the central characters in an individual way, showing us everyone’s perspective with Auggie being the connecting point.

When we meet Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), he appears to be a typical young boy, filled with enthusiasm and a pleasant demeanor, running around the house wearing an astronaut helmet. His parents Nate (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Julia Roberts), and his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) love him dearly. After several years of home schooling, Auggie is about to take on his first day in a typical public school for the very first time. The young boy fears the other kids won’t like him, will make fun of how he looks, and generally make the experience a nightmare… and sadly, he’s right… initially. The friendly headmaster Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin) chooses three kids to get Auggie acclimated to the school, including a condescending trust fund boy named Julian (Bryce Gheisar), a talkative wannabe child actress named Charlotte (Elle McKinnon), and a quiet and seemingly well-meaning boy named Jack Will (Noah Jupe). As Auggie and Jack become surprise friends, Julian becomes a thorn in his side and shows just how cruel children can be. We also learn about Via’s life, how she deals with her brother getting so much attention from her family, and how she copes with losing her long time friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) for reasons neither of them fully understand. Jack Will also becomes a focal point of the script, and at one point the narrative even shifts focus to Miranda and her past with Via and their respective families. All of these separate story sections very much connect with Auggie, making for a layered and thorough tale.

The sectioned aspect of the screenplay is actually quite refreshing and handled very well, giving us a chance to see everyone’s point of view and giving the actors a chance to really shine. The cast is a rather brilliant mix of familiar names and fresh-faced standouts. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson add gravitas to the story and have great chemistry as Auggie’s well meaning parents, constantly having to cope with new challenges. They’re even given time to have individual moments where the really make an impression. Jacob Tremblay is excellent as Auggie, finding ways to transcend the heavy makeup he wears throughout the film. After seeing him in ROOM and now this, it’s safe to say the young actor is truly a revelation to watch closely moving forward. The way he plays Auggie is sincere and only emotional when necessary or when it should be expected. It’s an honest reading that keeps the production for falling into schmaltzy territory. Izabela Vidovic is also fantastic playing Auggie’s frequently ignored sister, and she gets a great storyline involving unexpected young love and friendship woes. It’s very refreshing to see a story like this take the time to showcase how the central character affects them, and what they have to deal with on a personal level. Noah Jupe is also quite good as Auggie’s friend who has to deal with all that entails, and Bryce Gheisar is exceptionally nasty as the “villain” of Auggie’s school world. Mandy Patinkin and Daveed Diggs are fine additions to the cast playing the two more important disciplinary figures in Auggie’s life… honestly, there’s not a single bad egg in this ensemble.

Stephen Chbosky finds a great balance with this story to keep things interesting and emotionally invested without ever pandering to the audience. The execution of the script feels very real and easy to relate to, even for folks who have never had children. While there’s nothing earth-shattering about the end result and this isn’t what I’d call a game changer film, it is really good for a variety of reasons and the kind of movie the whole family could happily take in and discuss. Great messages and brilliant performances make WONDER an absolutely wonderful cinematic experience, and deliver a sweet film that’s easily one of the better entries of the year.

WONDER opens November 17, 2017

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community’s leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.