tue 12/12/2017

Wonder review - sweet and smart but sometimes also schmaltzy | reviews, news & interviews

Wonder review - sweet and smart but sometimes also schmaltzy

Wonder review - sweet and smart but sometimes also schmaltzy

Jacob Tremblay is on form once again in a film at odds with itself

Inner beauty: 'Room' star Jacob Tremblay as Auggie in 'Wonder'

Genuine emotion does battle with gerrymandered feeling in Wonder, which at least proves that the young star of Room, Jacob Tremblay, is no one-film wonder himself. Playing a pre-teen Brooklynite who yearns to be seen as more than the facial disfigurement that announces him to the world, Tremblay is astonishing once more in a movie that feels as if it wants to break free of the formulaic but can't quite bring itself to do so. 

When the director Stephen Chbosky keeps the focus on 10-year-old Auggie's domestic life that's to say the scenes involving his interactions with his mum and dad and older sister the film is funny and smart. Quirky, too, as evidenced by our initial glimpses of the sad-eyed lad, his face obscured by the space helmet into which he retreats: a safe space, free from the prying eyes of a potentially unsympathetic world. In an unexpectedly droll detail, we get a glimpse of this survivor of 27 operations to put right a facial defect present since birth who has taken over the years to being able to tell people by their shoes. At the same time, the briefest glimpse in flashback of his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) in the delivery room as the nurses whisk the peculiar-looking newborn away sketches in all the back story that we need know. 

The actual meat of Wonder, adapted from RJ Palacio's 2012 children's novel of the same name, chronicles what transpires once Auggie is thrown into the maelstrom otherwise known as school. Home-taught up until that point, he must now accommodate peers who may or may not have the maturity to deal with the abnormal, though it will come as absolutely no surprise to reveal that everyone lands on the same ecstatic, ovation-happy page by the preordained end.Wonder filmThe school principal (Mandy Patinkin) gives Auggie a handselected trio of fellow students to take him under their wing, one of whom, Julian (Bryce Gheisar), turns out to be a mini-terror with a fleetingly-seen mum who suggests the malign tree from which this bad apple fell. But Julian by the final reel is fully on script with the inner beauty that is the film's ever-worthwhile message, and Noah Jupe is especially good as the classmate, Jack, who shifts from Auggie's traitor to his truest friend: he and Tremblay possess an entirely natural, unforced intimacy that is rarer than you might think in the celluloid canon of child thesps. 

The family dynamic is given unusual shading by the underplayed contrast between one parent, Owen Wilson's uncomplicatedly gregarious and likable dad, and a mum in Roberts's keenly observed Isabel whose devotion has resulted in sidelining older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic). She, in turn, alternates between lying to others about being an only child and reminding the younger brother on whom she clearly dotes that he is not the only one with a claim on people's sympathies. It's only too bad that an ancillary storyline involving Via falling out with her best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), doesn't in any way ring true. Sure, Miranda has returned from summer break with newly cool hair, but what was in the suntan lotion to explain the dramatic volte-face in her friendship? (One could do without the hoary subplot whereby Via rescues a school production of what else? Our Town.)

Mavens of the musical Hamilton will delight in the presence (to not huge effect, it must be said) of that show's Tony-winning Daveed Diggs as a homeroom teacher in the hipster school at which Auggie is enrolled. And it is the inevitable careering towards graduation that tips Wonder irrevocably over the edge into the wince-making. As everyone rises to cheer Auggie's long march to the stage to accept his middle-school diploma, surely Chbosky and co realise that their movie at its sharpest doesn't need such cheesy cues. 

It will come as absolutely no surprise to reveal that everyone lands on the same ecstatic page

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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