Saccharine feel good weepies are order of the day with Stephen Chbosky’s big screen adaptation of R.J. Palacio’s novel Wonder. A heart-on-its-sleeve wearing drama that unleashes the full gamut of emotional manipulation no better signified than the cinematic gold mine that is Julia Roberts’ chompers and crying face.
Whenever Julia Roberts is about to cry on screen, I feel like I’m gutted too. Thus is the cinematic power of the Robertsanator and, although she takes a backseat here in Wonder, the power she wields is everpresent. At the outset, any movie about a disfigured child dealing with school is always going to be one aimed at kicking you right in the blood pumper. Whilst Wonder doesn’t bring anything particularly new to table, the boisterous performances by its young cast considerably help proceedings.
Twelve year old Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay – Room) is something of a wonder of a kid. Born with a genetic defect, he’s endured dozens of surgeries to reconstruct his face and give him the faculties of sight and hearing. The cost however, is that he is facially disfigured. His older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic – Supergirl), forever his champion, is feeling the pinch as the family’s focus has revolved around Auggie’s needs. Long suffering and super understanding matriarch Isabel (Julia Roberts) & patriarch Nate (Owen Wilson) have kept the family going by home schooling Auggie – until now. Now Auggie must go to Middle School (Year 5).
The trump card that Wonder has is that the story is told from the children’s point of view. The performances from the young cast are solid and invested. Roberts is on form and Owen Wilson does Owen Wilson.
A haphazard use of breaking the film into chapters based on the central child protagonists doesn’t quite work especially in the cases of surrounding characters where subplots are established but never fully resolved (most gratingly obvious one involves Miranda, a friend of Via’s). A lazy use of narration from Auggie throughout impedes proceedings but it is all well meaning.
Tackling themes of bullying, neglect, overcoming adversity, and tolerance, Wonder runs the emotional gamut and fires it at you full tilt. Whilst it doesn’t have the character subtlety of Chbosky’s stunning debut The Perks of Being a Wallflower, he’s an assured had in telling stories from a child’s perspective.
Wonder is an effective heart tugger machine and you’d have to be fairly stone hearted not to get emotionally engaged here.
WONDER is in CINEMAS NOW!