[Screen It]


(2017) (Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts) (PG)

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Drama: A 10-year-old boy with a congenital craniofacial disorder must contend with the varied reaction of others as he enters school for the first time, all while his older sister deals with her own issues.
10-year-old Auggie Pullman (JACOB TREMBLAY) was born with a congenital craniofacial disorder that's resulted in 27 surgeries to try to make him "normal." But with his appearance still likely to draw stares, his parents, Isabel (JULIA ROBERTS) and Nate (OWEN WILSON), have home-schooled him up to this point, with his mom having put her career on hold, all while Auggie's older sister, Via (IZABELA VIDOVIC), has had to play second fiddle to all of the attention her younger sibling has obviously needed.

But now Auggie's parents believe he has to attend a regular school and he gets a lot of support from the principal, Mr. Tushman (MANDY PATINKIN), as well as his homeroom teacher, Mr. Browne (DAVEED DIGGS), and science teacher, Ms. Petosa (ALI LIEBERT), who recognizes just how smart the boy is.

That doesn't sit well with snobby bully Julian (BRYCE GHEISAR) or his followers, including Amos (TY CONSIGLIO), who routinely make fun of Auggie and his appearance. The boy does get support, however, from fellow students Jack (NOAH JUPE) and Summer (MILLIE DAVIS), which boosts his confidence at school.

At the same time and having just entered high school, Via learns that her best friend, Miranda (DANIELLE ROSE RUSSELL), now wants little to do with her after a summer away, but she finds a kindred spirit in self-proclaimed theater nerd Justin (NADJI JETER) with whom she bonds and eventually develops feelings for. As the siblings contend with their various issues and how they affect their family, the stories behind some of the other kids are brought to light as well.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
Having lived my entire life with what's commonly known as a sunken chest, I've received more than my fair share of stares from people over the years whenever I've gone shirtless. I guess it's human nature to perceive something that looks strikingly out of the ordinary and I used to be quite embarrassed by that (I especially hated when coaches and PE instructors would do the old "shirts" and "skins" team selection when divvying up boys for some athletic event or game).

Nowadays I could care less (even when I still notice the staring). But most kids don't come pre-equipped with that sort of decades-forged, "whatever" mental state and thus end up psychologically affected by whatever their "abnormality" might be. I was lucky enough that no one could really tell when I had my shirt on, but there are obviously conditions that can't be so easily covered up.

That's part of the gist of "Wonder," a terrific, heartfelt and moving little drama about a 10-year-old boy who has congenital craniofacial disorder and has, for the most part, been sheltered by his parents from much public exposure. And when he does go out, he usually wears some sort of helmet to avoid the stares aimed at his face.

But those parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, perfectly cast) have decided it's time for Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, hot off his success in "Room") to go to a regular school, knowing full well the trauma that likely lies ahead for them, their son, and even their older daughter (Izabela Vidovic) who's had to contend with always being overshadowed by her brother's obvious needs and emergencies.

As directed by Stephen Chbosky ("The Perks of a Being a Wallflower") from a screenplay adaptation of R.J. Palacio's 2012 novel that he co-wrote with Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, the story follows an expected route of Auggie entering school, having understanding teachers, encountering mean bullies, and getting a few friends, all with setbacks, tears and even a few laughs.

There's nothing new in that, or even having a protagonist with such a facial condition having to contend with the reaction of others ("Mask" dealt with that decades ago). What's interesting is that after the main story is established, the film segues into telling the tale from the perspective of various kids, obviously starting with Auggie.

But it then moves on to his sister (easily the best of the bunch of these rewind cutaway moments) and her ordeal of being the second fiddle; her best friend (Danielle Rose Russell) who's recently ditched her after a summer away; the boy's new best friend (Noah Jupe) who then does something unconscionable; and even the school bully (Bryce Gheisar) who's the sort of smarmy kid everyone knew in school and hated.

I kept waiting for Roberts' and Wilson's characters to be featured as well, but then realized it's all about the kids and the exploration and explanations behind the way they sometimes behave in curious or even mean fashion. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but it's all handled with utmost aplomb, which can be said for the overall film as well.

I will say I was concerned that things would get overly sentimental, manipulative or simply far too melodramatic for me -- and possibly others -- to swallow or even just tolerate. Thankfully, that's never the case as the film earns its moments of viewer sniffling, eye-watering and outright bawling with an easy and believable approach that won't leave many if any viewers feeling manhandled in an emotional sense.

Performances are terrific across the board, with Tremblay obviously having to do much of the heavy lifting under layers of prosthetic makeup. But Roberts is great as well (and is arguably the best tear inducer), Wilson does his usual awe-shucks, laid-back humor bit (although toned down enough that he doesn't feel like he's in a Wes Anderson movie), and Vidovic might just steal the best performance award away from all of them in a splendid supporting role.

I loved this sweet little film from start to finish and its message of being kind to others, and wished I could have spent more time with and yes, staring at these characters. "Wonder" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 7, 2017 / Posted November 17, 2017

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