A Won­der of an old-fash­ioned sob fest

Feilding-Rangitikei Herald - - What's On -


In some myth­i­cal ‘burb of New York City, where the streets are wide, quiet, trash-free and tree­lined, there lives a boy called Aug­gie Pull­man.

And Aug­gie was born with a van­ish­ingly rare cranio/fa­cial de­for­ma­tion. Twenty-seven surg­eries and 10 years later, Aug­gie can at least see, hear and breathe, and his in­tel­lect is unim­paired. But Aug­gie’s face re­mains a mis­matched col­lec­tion of dis­parate parts and post­sur­gi­cal scars. ‘‘Were you in a car crash?’ asks one of Aug­gie’s new class­mates, on his first day of fifth grade. It gets worse.

Aug­gie has been home schooled un­til now, but he is de­ter­mined, de­spite his par­ent’s un­cer­tainty, to make a go of school and to fit in to the out­side world. No mat­ter how ve­nal, cruel and preda­tory that world might be.

Won­der is an adap­ta­tion – and a pretty faith­ful one – of the best­selling 2012 novel by R J Pala­cio (Raquel Jaramillo). The book fol­lows Aug­gie, his fam­ily and a few of his class­mates as they nav­i­gate one mo­men­tous year in the life of a boy fac­ing far more than just the usual child­hood tri­als and in­se­cu­ri­ties.

Aug­gie (or Au­gust, to give him his full, sel­dom used name) is played by Ja­cob Trem­blay (Room). Trem­blay was only 10 years old him­self when Won­der was filmed. But he is al­ready some­thing of a screen vet­eran, with a six-year and 10-film ca­reer be­hind him. Some of the best adult ac­tors around would strug­gle to con­vey the range and depth of emo­tion that Trem­blay brings to life here, es­pe­cially through the lay­ers of pros­thetic putty and make-up he wears. But Trem­blay is as­ton­ish­ingly ef­fec­tive in re­al­is­ing a script that avoids the sac­cha­rine even while min­ing Aug­gie’s plight.

Di­rec­tor Stephen Ch­bosky has the thun­der­ously good The Perks of Be­ing a Wall­flower on his CV. He brings to Won­der enough of the tren­chancy he showed there to dodge most of the pit­falls of sen­ti­ment this film of­ten seems to be ca­reer­ing inevitably to­wards.

Around Trem­blay, Iz­abela Vi­dovic (Home­front) finds some strong mo­ments as Aug­gie’s older sis­ter, un­com­plain­ingly liv­ing in a fam­ily she knows must or­bit her brother, but still need­ing some re­spect and at­ten­tion her­self. Daveed Diggs (Hamil­ton) and the great Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride) round out the adult sup­port roles as Aug­gie’s English teacher and school prin­ci­pal. But it’s Ju­lia Roberts’ and Owen Wil­son’s names on the poster that will be keep­ing the ticket sellers busy. Cast, pleas­ingly, as Aug­gie’s par­ents, Roberts and Wil­son ra­di­ate warmth, in­tel­li­gence and compassion as a cou­ple of al­most too-good-to-true sub­ur­ban­ites.

Was any­one ever re­ally raised by a cou­ple like this? Are these peo­ple – so kind, em­pa­thetic, sen­si­tive, funny and smart – even pos­si­ble? Is­abel and Nate Pull­man are a fan­tasy of pros­per­ous lib­er­al­ism that surely only ex­ists in the imag­i­na­tion of writ­ers and film-mak­ers. And yet, Roberts and Wil­son brought these peo­ple con­vinc­ingly enough to life to cut my cyn­i­cism off at the pass. Late in the piece, as Roberts turns to Aug­gie – in tears, nat­u­rally – and says to him ‘‘you re­ally are a won­der’’ it’s tempt­ing to be­lieve she is not just recit­ing the words in the script but also pay­ing trib­ute to Trem­blay’s per­for­mance, and to every­thing and ev­ery­one else who is mak­ing this un­likely en­ter­prise hold to­gether.

Won­der is the very def­i­ni­tion of a disease-of-the-week weepie. But it is put to­gether and per­formed with enough con­vic­tion, craft, re­straint and in­tel­li­gence to get it over the line in style.

It’s an old-fash­ioned three­hankie sob fest with sassy kids, catchy songs, kind adults and a cute dog. What’s not to like? – Graeme Tuck­ett

Both Ju­lia Roberts and Ja­cob Trem­blay are quite bril­liant in Won­der.

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