Movie Review: “Wonder” (PG)

Movie Review: "Wonder"It’s hard to nitpick a movie as well-intentioned as “Wonder.” It may be a little sticky-sweet and eager to pull at the heartstrings, but thankfully, it isn’t as cloying or as preachy as something like “Pay it Forward.” Instead, it wears its heart on its sleeve and plays more like a mild child version of “Mask.”

In “Wonder,” young Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) prepares for his first day of school after having been homeschooled for quite some time. This transition would be difficult for any child, but it is doubly so for Auggie because he was born with a birth defect that affects his facial features. Despite his overwhelming fear of what other kids will think of his appearance, this youngster enters his new school with his head held high.

Movie Review: "Wonder" teaches kids the importance of compassion and acceptanceSadly, Auggie is bullied to a certain extent, but much to the delight of his loving parents (played by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), he makes a handful of friends, too. And throughout this journey, we the viewers discover that a few important individuals in Auggie’s life have their own hardships to deal with.

“Wonder” is based on the New York Times bestseller, and it was directed by “The Perks of Being Wallflower” helmer Stephen Chbosky. It is a bit precious and tends to lean a little on the heavy-handed side at times, but it’s also pretty darn sincere. A lot of that sincerity comes through in a trio of emotionally rich performances by Wilson, Roberts, and young Tremblay who after leaving quite an impression in 2015’s “Room” continues to deliver the goods.

“Wonder” benefits from a warm roster of supporting players as well. Izabela Vidovic is compassionate and fittingly conflicted as Auggie’s older sister. She adores her brother and would do anything for him, but she sometimes doesn’t feel she gets the support she needs. Veteran Mandy Pantinkin (“The Princess Bride”) is also terrific, if a little underutilized, as as a stern but understanding school principal.

“Wonder” offers up a much needed anti-bully sentiment in a world that desperately needs it. But Chbosky deals with this theme in an interesting way by showing that this is learned behavior and by daring to have one character man up and own a terrible mistake rather than denying it and getting away with it without any repercussions.

That said, “Wonder” doesn’t always come up aces. Despite its well-intentioned nature, there are moments that are a little eye-roll worthy, and the double-back plot structure — there are stretches here when the movie jumps back to a specific character and delves a little further into their story — feels more intrusive than necessary. Had “Wonder” been told as a straightforward narrative, it probably would have been more effective. Instead, the movie feels a little overstuffed and even resorts to an off-tangent plot development that is very reminiscent of “Marley and Me.” True, “Wonder” is essentially a story about life and overcoming obstacles, but it would have greatly benefited from a more honed-in story structure.

All of that said, “Wonder” is worthy of a viewing, and it’s definitely a film kids should see because it does teach an important life lesson about compassion and acceptance in a way that they’ll understand. Of course, it also helps that the pint-sized emotional powerhouse that serves as this film’s protagonist is also a big “Star Wars” fan, and what kid can’t relate to that?

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