Wonder

 

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A film likely to arouse critical disdain, but should it?

 
Wonder

Izabela Vidovic, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay and Julia Roberts

  

It would be easy to scoff at this film but it would also be pointless. Stephen Chbosky, who first made a mark in 2012 when he brought his own novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower to the screen, moved into the mainstream by collaborating on the screenplay for this year’s Beauty and the Beast and now goes wholly commercial by both writing and directing Wonder based on the best-selling novel by R.J. Palacio published in 2012. The film that he now gives us is certainly old-fashioned and sentimental, but that is not necessarily inappropriate in a piece that aims to provide family entertainment and should appeal to younger children.

 

Wonder is the story of a 10-year-old boy, Auggie Pullman, who is played by that very accomplished child actor Jacob Tremblay who triumphed in Room (2015). Auggie has been born with facial deformities and home education by his mother (Julia Roberts) has given him some protection from the outside world. But now mom and dad (Owen Wilson) realise that the time has come when he needs to attend school and Wonder traces his experiences on going out into the world and joining a fifth grade elementary school. There he will make both friends and enemies, suffer from being shunned and be subjected to bullying but will (inevitably in a film of this kind) win through.

 

By way of a subplot, the film also portrays the life of Auggie’s sympathetic sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), who has been brushed aside by her best friend (Danielle Rose Russell) and, just occasionally, the film probes deeper as when Via feels sidelined by her parents because Auggie’s condition is such that he takes first place in their lives. But for the most part this is deliberately simplistic stuff, so it is no surprise when Via triumphs in a school play and when Auggie wins a special medal on graduation day. Yes, this is the kind of film which accompanies scenes of Hallowe’en with 'Monster Mash' on the soundtrack and ushers in Christmas with 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town'. But, whereas a not dissimilar story was told in Mask (1985), that film in contrast featured an older child, a deformed teenager, and had a 15 certificate. Wonder is aimed at a different audience and for youngsters its message that outward looks should not be important is an absolutely worthwhile one.

 

Roberts hits the right note as mom, but Wilson has little to contribute. However, it’s the youngsters who count and that’s not just the talented Tremblay but the other child actors involved (Noah Jupe, Bryce Gheisar and Millie Davis in particular) who all give sound performances. Consequently, in its chosen, popular vein, Wonder does its job and, save for the scene of Auggie’s birth which strikes a note of near-farce before turning serious, the film is consistent in its tone throughout. Some will undoubtedly disdain it or indeed loathe it, but it is what it is and it does exactly what it set out to do.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Izabela Vidovic, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, Sonia Braga, Danielle Rose Russell, Nadji Jeter, Noah Jupe, Bryce Gheisar, Millie Davis, Elle McKinnon, Crystal Lowe, Ali Liebert, Emma Tremblay.

 

Dir Stephen Chbosky, Pro David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman, Screenplay Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, from the novel by R.J. Palacio, Ph Don Burgess, Pro Des Kalina Ivanov, Ed Mark Livolsi, Music Marcelo Zarvos, Costumes Monique Prudhomme.

 

Lionsgate/Mandeville Films/Participant Media/Walden Media-Lionsgate UK.
113 mins. USA. 2017. Rel: 1 December 2017. Cert. PG.