By Tania Phillips
Starring: Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay
Based on a New York Times bestselling book, Wonder is Hollywood at its best and most tropey.
But the end result is still a heart-warming, if a little rose-coloured, look at a family under pressure and is one of those currently rare as hens’ teeth “family movies”.
It has all the required elements to be a Hollywood success: Two big stars as the perfectly flawed parents – Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson (with Jacob Tremblay from the Panic Room and Mandy Patinkin thrown in for extra points) – check; a sick child (well Augey isn’t sick but he’s had a lot of surgeries) – check; triumphing against the odds and changing people’s opinions – check and a message (of hope and acceptance) – check.
At its heart, Wonder tells the story of August Pullman, born with facial differences who has had 27 surgeries and has been homeschooled until the age of 10.
It’s basically what happens when he goes to a mainstream school and the effect that has on his classmates, friends and family.
But despite offering very little new ground, it still has its moments and tries hard to break away from the Hollywood stereotypes and tell a story sure to resonate with kids particularly. Riskily, it’s told from varying viewpoints (Augey, his sister and her best friend and his friend) offering a well-rounded look at the subject and handled as deftly as possible by director Stephen Chbosky (writer/director of The Perks of Being a Wallflower).
Izabela Vidovic as Augey’s sister brings a deft touch and lovely humanity to her role, while Owen Wilson is there as comic relief when the sugar levels reach diabetic coma territory. It would be easy to dismiss this as “inspiration porn and Hollywood sugar coating” but in a cynical world where we are all looking at the big picture and shaking our heads, sometimes a story about the small personal battles is just what we need to restore our faith in humanity and send the right message to our kids.