Toby is a film reviewer for the NZ Herald and NZME's regional publications.

Movie Review: Wonder (+trailer)

Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay in a scene from Wonder.
Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay in a scene from Wonder.

In a family-friendly version of David Lynch's The Elephant Man, director Stephen Chbosky has negotiated the foggy area between trite and truth in this engaging tale of triumph over adversity.

It's been a while between films for Chbosky who gave us the surprisingly good The Perks of Being a Wallflower back in 2012. His latest outing is an adaptation of R.J. Palacio's best-selling novel Wonder — if you haven't heard of it, your kids probably have.

Wonder tells the story of August Pullman, a 10-year-old boy deformed from birth due to a genetic disorder. Having been shielded from the cruel taunts of the school playground, his homeschooling parents (played by Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts) feel it's time to integrate Auggie into public school life.

The film is rife with harsh realities and tender moments as Auggie (and the people around him) adjust to the change. Jacob Tremblay (Room) does a commendable job of playing the lead and presents a broad range of emotions despite the difficulties of dealing with a ton of facial prosthetic makeup.

Although Auggie provides the film with its narrative momentum, Wonder's strength lies in how his circumstances affect, and ultimately inspire, others; his sister dealing with being the forgotten sibling, the classmates who learn to learn accept him and others who reject him — they all learn important lessons brought about through self-examination.

Other than a chaptered structure which introduces the main players and their point-of-view, and a dusting of magical realism throughout, Wonder prudently avoids getting too caught up in the artifice of film, electing instead to tell its story simply and cleanly.

Wonder is not without a few false steps — Auggie's dad (Owen Wilson) is relegated to a comic relief role which misses a unique opportunity to examine a father-son relationship, and moments throughout the film are prone to being too maudlin.

Despite this, Wonder's emotive qualities caught me off guard, and try as a might, I couldn't keep a dry eye ... some chilli-flakes must've fallen into my popcorn.

Director: Stephen Chbosky
Cast: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson
Running time: 113 minutes
Censor rating: PG | Coarse language

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