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Wonder

Based on R.J. Palacio’s book, ‘Wonder’ does its best to not over-sentimentalise the subject matter. Many issue based movies have fallen into the trap of being preachy and sugar-coating the drama with tears and over-ripe drama. Although ‘Wonder’ has a few tearful scenes, it almost manages not to manipulate viewers with its story. Audiences can spot an emotionally fake film a mile away with ‘Wonder’ walking the tight-rope of drama and moral messages with ease.

Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson) are married parents of teenage daughter Via (Izabela Vidovic) and young son August (Jacob Tremblay). They are loving parents who would do anything for their children and especially their son who has a facial deformity. Wanting a normal life as possible for him, they enrol him in a mainstream school. Although concerned how people will react to August, Isabel and Nate hope his presence teaches those around him the value of acceptance. The road towards this is rocky as people attempt to adjust to a different-looking person in their lives.

‘Wonder’ runs the gamut of emotions as it slowly reveals people’s responses to August’s presence. Alarm, bullying, sympathy and friendship are all shown with the reactions feeling genuine. Jacob Tremblay’s performance as the stoic child is amazing with his character’s quiet strength amidst a strange world quite powerful. This isn’t an artificial ‘Forrest Gump’-style morality play, but an authentic exploration of dealing with things many don’t understand. Roberts, Wilson and Vidovic are equally first rate as the family coping with their own relationships with August and each other.

Whilst moments are over-saturated with sentimentality, ‘Wonder’ tells its tale well. Director Stephen Chbosky deserves credit for moving the story along less familiar paths with outcomes delivering genuine surprises. The screenplay successfully deals with several topics and has many narrative strands to get through. That it effectively ties everything together into the central themes shows the level of care into making viewing memorable. The score also remembers not to over-use the swirling violins so common in these films with an understated soundtrack allowing the actions and dialogue to generate the film’s true power.

It’s easy delivering a serving of schmaltzy daytime TV-style weep-fest. ‘Wonder’ certainly isn’t that with the finely balanced and strong script generally avoiding such clichés. Its’ messages of accepting people despite their differences is a lesson all should learn in life’s daily commute.

Rating out of 10: 8

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