Tropic Sprockets / Wonder

By Ian Brockway

Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) directs “Wonder” based on the novel by R.J. Palacio. The film unapologetically takes a heavily sentimental tone from the book, but first impressions are deceptive. The film has spirit and magnetism, due to the fine performance by Jacob Tremblay who captured audiences in “Room.”

Auggie (Tremblay) is a middle school boy with facial deformities most likely caused by Treacher Collins syndrome, a condition that affects the cheekbones, chin, ears and sometimes a cleft palate.

Auggie doesn’t want to go to school fearing the kids will tease him, but his mother (Julia Roberts) gives him a pep talk and pushes him. His dad (Owen Wilson who shares some of Auggie’s gestures) does dependably quirky things and is sure to smile, always there to lighten a mood.

Auggie has a sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) who deeply loves her brother but often feels left out due to the all absorbing medical worries with Auggie, intensified by a controlling mother.

Central to the film is Auggie who uses the fantasy of sci-fi and actual science to help him cope. He wears a NASA helmet obsessively and often sees visions of Chewie from “Star Wars,” a friend in times of stress.

Midway in the film Auggie is bullied by an amoral youngster named Julian (Bryce Gheisar) and the unassuming Jack (Noah Jupe) warms up to Auggie.

The film excels in alowing kids be kids, in giving them the space to act authentically. Like the other films “Stand by Me”, “E.T.” and the aforementioned “Room,” these youngsters have a glib freedom and energy. They exist as real characters, not simulations.

Although the melodrama is somewhat predictable and on cue: the mother struggles, Auggie is anguished and the family dog passes, no element feels forced. Each actor appears blissfully unburdened by sugary situations and plays it honest and straight.

“Wonder” is a buoyant film that works in spite of its trappings. Through the tangible charisma of its title character what at first feels like a Hallmark movie, turns into a emotive film that will induce some tears and a big hooray.

Write Ian at ianfree1@yahoo.com.