Perhaps my views of Wonder will change after the birth of my first child, but the first sign of Wonder's cheesiness is the opening telling of Auggie's birth, which includes the typical Hollywood version where dad Nate (Owen Wilson) fumbles with an oversized camcorder and mom Isabel (Julia Roberts) pants and sweats while still looking like Julia Roberts. It's not the parents that truly matter, however, it's young Auggie, played by Room star Jacob Tremblay. He narrates throughout, telling us about his fears and stressing about the way others will stare. He has been home-schooled by his mother up to this point and staying inside has allowed him to be himself, enjoying science, lightsaber fights, and playing video games. Just like any normal kid. It's the other kids Auggie needs to worry about.
I never read the book Wonder, but I would imagine the narrative has more depth to who Auggie truly is. Director Stephen Chbosky, writers Steve Conrad, and Jack Thorne divide the viewpoints between Auggie, his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), and fellow classmate Jack Will (Noah Jupe). It creates for an intriguing look from each characters angle, but it also often slows the flow of the story. When Auggie first arrives to school he is welcomed by his principal Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin) who eases his worries, but that's a brief moment before jerky bullies like trust-fund boy Julian (Bryce Gheisar) pick on Auggie for his differences.
What works the most for Wonder is it's tender care for the subject matter at hand. The overall message that evolves of teaching kids to be kind to those that are different from you is a teaching that all of us can get behind. The problem however, is a lack of entertainment. I found myself at times flat out bored and wishing something of more merit would actually happen. That's not to say that Auggie's struggles are not worthy of being told, but I didn't feel it was worthy to be told in a movie.
I don't want to make my boredom be a reason for you to not experience a film like Wonder. It has a powerful message that is impossible to dislike. I just found the cheesy dialogue and words of inspiration to take it's toll. Wonder often feels more like a Hallmark channel standard than a rousing masterpiece. The performances from the kids are solid, considering child actors are rarely all good, while Owen Wilson & Julia Roberts stand by with little to do but offer advice. Chbosky, who has a knack for directing films where groups of kids grow along the way (his The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a darling film), succeeds at delivering the film home, but failed to wow me. So I won't blame you if Wonder strikes a chord in your heart, it can be very moving. I will just have to Wonder, what the hell is wrong with me?
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady
STARRING: JACOB TREMBLAY; JULIA ROBERTS; OWEN WILSON; MANDY PATINKIN
DIRECTED BY: STEPHEN CHBOSKY
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
I left the theater after seeing Wonder feeling like I took a test to find out if I had a heart or if my insides were as hollow as the Tin Man. I don't think it's completely empty between my ribs, but I left with a sense of slight manipulation and believing I saw the next best after school special. Director Stephen Chbosky brings R.J. Palacio's New York Times Bestseller to the big screen, telling the story of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy whose birth defect left his face deformed, and is now embarking on the fearful challenge of going to school with other kids for the first time. Wonder is the kind of movie that is impossible to hate because the message of telling others to be kind to one another is too important to disregard. I just wish it was done with a more honesty and care.