Catasauqua Press

Monday, January 21, 2019

Review: ‘Wonder’

Friday, December 22, 2017 by Paul Willistein in Focus

“Wonder” is a wonderful film that deals with the topic of bullying and should be seen by school students and families.

The film is not presented as an anti-bullying film per se and it is much more than that.

“Wonder” is about August “Auggie” Pullman, who has undergone 27 surgeries after he was born with mandibulofacial dystosis, known as Treacher Collins Syndrome.

“Wonder” is told from several points of view, highlighted by title cards of each character’s name and then, with narration by each, relating his or her point of view. These include flashbacks and partial retelling of the same scenes. It’s a bold concept and not altogether successful because it’s presented in too off-hand a manner.

Stephen Chbosky (director, screenwriter, author, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” 2012; screenwriter, “Beauty and the Beast,” 2017) directs “Wonder” from a screenplay he cowrote with Steven Conrad (screenwriter, TV’s “The Patriot,” 2015-16; “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” 2013; “The Pursuit of Happyness,” 2006; “Wrestling Earnest Hemingway,” 1993) and Jack Thorne (screenwriter, “War Book,” 2014) based on the novel by R.J. Palacio.

“Wonder,” as befits its title, evokes a gentle sense of wonder. Auggie (Jacob Tremblay, “Room,” 2015) is attending a fifth-grade prep school after being home-schooled in Brooklyn, New York City, N.Y. He still doesn’t want to give up his replica NASA space helmet because it hides his face. Auggie is fascinated by the solar system and wants to be an astronaut who gets to return to the moon.

“Wonder” has a nice geeky, nerdy undertone, even to depicting a school science fair as a genuinely cool event (which we all know it is, of course). There’s a sense of metaphor concerning relationships that evokes the definition of the word, “precept” (a rule that regulates behavior or thought); Newton’s First Law (an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.); Thornton Wilder’s 1938 play, “Our Town,” which is presented as a student play, and the idea that one should always try to be kind.

Unfortunately, many scenes are over-lit and with lighting not favorable to the lead actors. This may have been necessary because of the extensive makeup for Auggie by special makeup effects designer Arjen Tuiten. The camera angles, scene direction and acting are too typical. The sprightly soundtrack by Marcelo Zarvos includes pop songs evocative of the theme, especially, “We’re Going To Be Friends,” written by Jack White and performed in two versions by The White Stripes and Caroline Pennell. The acting is quite good, including that of Tremblay, even under all that prosthetic makeup. His sister, Olivia, “Via” (Izabela Vidovic, TV’s “The Foster,” 2015-18, in a memorable and sensitive portrayal), is resentful but understanding of the attention paid to Auggie by their parents.

As Isabel, Auggie’s mother who has put her thesis aside to home-school her son, Julia Roberts (Oscar recipient, actress, “Erin Brockovich,” 2001; Oscar nominee, actress, “Pretty Woman,” 1991; Oscar nominee, supporting actress, “August: Osage County,” 2013, and “Steel Magnolias,” 1989) gives a measured, even-toned performance.

As Nate, Auggie’s father, Owen Wilson (“Zoolander,” 2016, 2001; “Midnight in Paris,” 2011; “Marley and Me,” 2008: “Wedding Crashers,” 2005; Oscar nominee, screenplay co-writing, “The Royal Tenenbaums,” 2001), has some warm and compelling moments. Mandy Patinkin (“Homeland,” 2011-18) has an impressive turn as Mr. Tushman, prep school principal. Sonia Braga plays Via’s grandmother. Daveed Diggs (Grammy, “Hamilton” cast recording; TV’s “Blackish,” 2016-17) is noteworthy as Mr. Browne, the fifth-grade teacher. Ali Liebert is Ms. Petosa, a science teacher impressed by Auggie’s knowledge.

Auggie is bullied by fellow fifth-grade student, Julian (Bryce Gheisar). Auggie’s classmate, Jack (an excellent Noah Jupe), befriends him. Another fifth-grader, Charlotte (Elle McKinnon), is sympathetic. Summer (Millie Davis) stands up for Auggie. Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) is Via’s best friend. Justin (Nadji Jeter) is Via’s boyfriend.

Despite its flaws, “Wonder” will fill your eyes with tears and your heart with joy. You will depart the movie theater with a sense of wonder.

“Wonder,” MPAA rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested Some material may not be suitable for children. May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.) for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language; Genre: Drama, Family; Run time: 1 hr., 53 mins.; Distributed by Lionsgate.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “Wonder” was filmed on location in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; and Coney Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, New York City, N.Y.

Box Office, Dec. 15: “Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi” returned The Force to the box office, opening at No. 1 with $220 million, the second largest opening weekend since “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” opened with $247.9 million in 2015, keeping “Ferdinand” opening way back at No. 2 with $13.3 million, and dropping “Coco” puffed down two places after a three-week run at No. 1 to No. 3, with $10 million, $150.8 million, four weeks. 4. “Wonder” dropped one spot, $5.4 million, $109.2 million, five weeks; 5. “Justice League” slid down three slots, $4.1 million, $219.4 million, five weeks; 6. “Daddy’s Home 2” stayed in place, $3.8 million, $96.5 million, six weeks; 7. “Thor: Ragnarok” dropped two places, $3 million, $306.4 million, seven weeks; 8. “The Disaster Artist” slipped four places, $2.6 million, $12.9 million, three weeks; 9. “Murder on the Orient Express” tracked down two places, $2.4 million, $97.2 million, six weeks. 10. “Lady Bird” flitted down one perches, $2.1 million, $25.9 million, seven weeks.

Unreel, Dec. 22:

“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” PG-13: Jake Kasdan directs Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Freedom High School graduate Dwayne Johnson in the Fantasy Action film. Four teenagers enter a video game that takes place in the jungle in the remake of the 1995 film.

“Pitch Perfect 3,” PG-13: Trish Sie directs Anna Kendrick, Ruby Rose, Hailee Steinfeld, and Brittany Snow in the Musical-Comedy. The Bellas reunite for a singing contest at an overseas USO tour.

“Downsizing,” R: Alexander Payne directs Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, and Kristen Wiig in the Science-Fiction Comedy about a man who shrinks himself. It’s a small world, after all.

“Father Figures,” R: Lawrence Sher directs Owen Wilson, J.K. Simmons, Christopher Walken, and Glenn Close in the Comedy. Twin brothers go on the road to find their father.

“The Post,” PG-13: Steven Spielberg directs Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Sarah Paulson, and Bob Odenkirk in the Biography Drama about The Washington Post newspaper, its publisher, editor and a battle of the Fourth Estate over Watergate, the Pentagon Papers and President Richard Nixon.

Three Popcorn Boxes of Five Popcorn Boxes