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An emotional drama about a young boy overcoming adversity that can’t quite steer clear of cheap sentiment.
By Sarah Ward
November 30, 2017
By Sarah Ward
November 30, 2017

Be nice to each other. It's a simple, sensible message that we're all guilty of forgetting sometimes, but every now and then a film pops up to remind us. Wonder is the latest, based on the book of the same name. The movie spends its running time with 10-year-old Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), his family and his friends. Born with a facial deformity and still sporting considerable scars after corrective surgery, the home-schooled Star Wars and Minecraft fan just wants to be an average boy. Understandably, he isn't too keen on finally attending classes with other kids — and facing their stares, questions and inevitable teasing.

As The Elephant Man and Mask did before it, Wonder steps through the encounters that follow as Auggie interacts with the world. From bullying to peer pressure to hearing his only friend talk about him behind his back, it's the usual list of struggles. Auggie's mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) and father Nate (Owen Wilson) worry but offer encouragement, while his teenage sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) tries to lend a helping hand. Among Auggie's classmates, some taunt, such as popular kid Julian (Bryce Gheisar). Others are cautiously friendly, like scholarship student Jack (Noah Jupe).

It's Wonder's willingness to look beyond Auggie that endeavours to set it apart — and helps it avoid becoming a run-of-the-mill disease-focused weepie (though that fate never feels particularly far away). In chapters narrated by other characters, we learn that everyone has insecurities, fears and woes, as the film drives home the idea that we all deserve love and affection. Wading through troubles at home, navigating first relationships, being forced to give up on your dreams, and coping with death are just some of the situations covered.

As such, faulting the movie's intentions is impossible. As it tells Auggie's tale and others, the film shines a spotlight on society's troubling willingness to judge rather than help — a topic particularly relevant in today's political climate. A word of warning, however: if you're not too fond of having your emotions plucked like a harp, then you might say this family-friendly effort has too much obvious sentiment. The movie's thesis of kindness over cruelty is not only thoughtful and important, but as warm as its imagery. Still, at times it can feel as though the script is working through a checklist of every sappy cliche imaginable.

In the film that results, there's rarely a moment that doesn't tell viewers how to feel. That's hardly surprising given that director Stephen Chbosky previously helmed The Perks of Being a Wallflower — a movie that telegraphed its emotional intent in much the same way as Wonder, albeit with teenage outcasts instead of a lonely boy. Here, with Room's Tremblay doing such an impressive job of balancing Auggie's bravery and vulnerability, the overt button-pushing is even more unnecessary. Wonder might tell its audience to trust, care and be kind to each other, but it'd help if it trusted them to embrace it's own core messages without quite so much poking and prodding.

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