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Monday, 4 December 2017

Wonder

(PG) ★★★★

Director: Stephen Chbosky.

Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Noah Jupe, Danielle Rose Russell, Nadji Jeter, Bryce Gheisar, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, Millie Davis.

The pollen count was particularly bad that day,.
You would have to be an utter, utter bastard to give Wonder a bad review. It's so heartwarming and hopeful and so damned nice that it almost dodges criticism. It mines deep layers of pathos and boasts a main character you can't help but feel for and cheer for. There will be tears.

Of course, film critics are often cynical by nature, and just because a film boasts an incredibly positive message and makes you feel things, it doesn't mean it's automatically a good film.

Thankfully Wonder is a solidly made film, with few real cinematic or structural issues, which means I don't have to stick my neck out and be an utter, utter bastard. Wonder is far from perfect, but it meets its goal in delivering an affecting and uplifting story in these seemingly increasingly dark times.

Based on the book of the same name by R. J. Palacio, it tells the story of August "Auggie" Pullman (Tremblay), who is dealt an unfortunate genetic hand which leaves him with severe facial differences. Having been home-schooled all this life, his parents (Roberts and Wilson) decide it's time for him to venture into public schooling.

As expected, Auggie is the treated like a freak and bullied by his fellow students. He slowly begins to find his place in school and make friends, but it's never an easy situation.


Perhaps the biggest flaw of Wonder - and here's where my critical scepticism kicks in - is that it's too nice and almost complete devoid of cynicism, which adds a level of belief suspension that's almost unfathomable.

It paints a picture of a world in which almost everyone is much nicer and more understanding than you'll probably ever be. Many, if not all, of the kids learn a lesson and no one is set in their ways. It's not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but there's so much niceness that the whole thing becomes close to impossible.

But the biggest drawcard for this film is Tremblay's remarkable performance. You'll find yourself forgetting that this isn't a real child with facial differences and that it's actually a kid acting beneath prosthetics. It's a truly incredible turn, and as much as the overall outcome of the film may be somewhat unbelievable, Tremblay is utterly believable. This kid is astonishing.

Given the strength of the central character and Tremblay's delivery, the time and depth given to the other characters is also particularly impressive. Although awkwardly shoehorned in at first, segments on Auggie's sister Via (Vidovic), Auggie's best friend Jack Will (Jupe), and Via's best friend Miranda (Russell) are welcome, giving interesting alternate perspectives on Auggie's situation and his effect on others.

Roberts and Wilson are also good, but they're largely overshadowed by the child and teen stars, who have more remarkable characters and arcs. The adults are the supporting cast here, despite their screen time. It's also good to see Patinkin again, in a small but important role.

If you can shut off your cynicism and revel in the hope and heart of Wonder, you'll have a teary yet heartwarming time in the cinema. And even if you can't allow yourself to indulge in such empathetic niceties, then at least settle in and marvel at Tremblay giving one of the best child performances of all time.




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