Greg Eichelberger reviews "Wonder" (2017)

By: 
Greg Eichelberger
Staff Writer

It used to be that Holiday films relied on humor, emotion and good old Christmas spirit to be successful. No more, however. Now we have to deal with several more topics, including toilet humor, alcoholism, bad rap music (I know, that's redundant) and drug abuse, among other things.
In the newest release, "Wonder," directed by Stephen Chbosky (screenwriter, the live-action "Beauty and the Beast") in his debut (he also co-wrote), there is teen angst, parental division, bullying, childhood disfigurement, friends breaking up, sibling rivalry, miscommunication, adult stupidity, alienation, loneliness, bitter recrimination, school violence, the death of a pet and, as a candy cane on the cake, interracial dating.
God Bless us, everyone …
The story, based on the novel by R.J. Palacio, features Jacob Tremblay ("Room") as August "Auggie" Pullman, a 10-year old born with a disfigured face. After dozens of surgeries, years of therapy and homeschooling by his parents, Isabel (Julia Roberts, "Money Monster,") a Golden Globe winner for "Erin Brakovich") and Nate (Owen Wilson, a voiceover in "Cars 3," the horrid "Masterminds"), he wants to attend a regular fifth grade class.
Fearing the worst, mom and dad are obviously concerned because children are more often non-filtered (some adults are worse, however), and their son is libel to be hurt, especially since the boy moves outside of his comfort zone and removes of his favorite astronaut helmet that hides his surgical (as well as emotional) scars.
Despite his above average intelligence, a caring principal, Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin, an Emmy winner for "Chicago Hope," but best known for his role of Inigo Montoya in "The Princess Bride") and kind teachers (including Daveed Diggs, a voice in the upcoming "Ferdinand"), he is immediately blind-sided by a group of kids ordered to show him around the school.
It becomes worse, even though no one calls him names or overtly abuses him, as looks, whispering and neglect all combine to make things miserable.
Just when Auggie seems to have risen above it all and makes a new friend with Jack Will (Noah Jupe, "Suburbicon"), it all come crashing in with a series of unfortunate events at school and at home.
Mainly, his bitter older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic, "Homefront"), who feels left out and now HER best friend has moved on to a more popular crowd.
The film now threatens to come to a screeching halt, but fortunately, the book's author divides things into chapters which explain the motivation behind some of the character's decisions.
Thus we get the real story behind what could have been simply glossed-over situations.
And yes, while there are plenty of heart-tugging scenes — sadly some are more than manufactured for the audience's manipulation — others, however, are more than genuine.
Initially, one would rather spend two hours watching Steve Harvey than a film about a little boy with a facial deformity, but the heartfelt story, those previously-mentioned explanations along with a very good cast, especially Tremblay, Roberts and Patinkin make it a positive experience.
But it is stolen by the young man, who SHOULD have been nominated for an Academy Award in 2015.
Sure, Auggie is a science geek and "Star Wars" fanatic, so there are more than enough reasons for average children NOT to like him. The fact that he has already endured dozens of operations that still can't disguise the scars on his face, makes him more vulnerable to viewers, though.
Tremblay, so good opposite Brie Larson in Room, gives a feeling performance that makes him far from a perfect person even with prosthetics and makeup covering his face.
So, when giving the choice between being clever as a reviewer and being kind, I will do as Palacio suggests — in this case, anyway.
Grade: C+