The live-action family film has become a bit of an endangered species, especially ones with genuine heart and sentiment. It’s like stumbling across a dodo bird in your backyard.
“Wonder” falls into that rare category and scores without falling into the trap of being overly sappy or preachy.
Based on the best-selling novel, “Wonder” is the story of Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay, the child actor who made waves with his performance in “Room”), a normal 10-year-old boy in every way except for his having a severe facial deformity.
Auggie has a loving and supportive family but only begins to venture out into the real world on his own for the first time into one of the cruelest and unforgiving environments imaginable— middle school.
Auggie’s journey through fifth grade begins awkwardly with most kids keeping their distance and with some being downright mean. But, Auggie perseveres and his classmates slowly begin to see the smart and caring young man behind the facial scars.
While Auggie’s story follows a lot of familiar beats, what makes “Wonder” stand out is how the movie pivots the spotlight to see how Auggie’s struggles and triumphs deeply impact those around him.
His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has put her life on hold for Auggie and finds it to be harder than she expected to turn him out into the world.
His father Nate (Owen Wilson) is a bouncing ball of energy and positivity who remains dependable and forthright throughout.
Auggie’s older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) may be the most interesting character of the bunch, a sweet girl who feels the sting of Auggie’s needs taking precedent in the family while she attempts to navigate the emotional highs and lows of high school and reconnect with her mother.
Director Stephen Chbosky (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) does an excellent job of bypassing the low-hanging fruit and keeping “Wonder” from being overly sentimental or emotionally manipulative.
“Wonder” earns every moment and while the result is not earth-shattering, a well-made film with the message “be nice to everyone” feels borderline revolutionary in this day and age.
This is a movie the whole family can enjoy and there’s not an explosion or digitally altered pixel anywhere on the screen. A rare bird indeed.
“Wonder” is rated PG for thematic elements including bullying and some mild language.