Friday, November 24, 2017

'Wonder' has lots of YA appeal

Because of scheduling conflicts, I was unable to attend an advance screening of Wonder, the big-screen adaptation of R.J. Palacio's 2012 YA novel. Directed by Stephen Chbosky and starring Julia Roberts, Wonder tells the story of 10-year-old Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a boy born with facial deformities. Roberts portrays Auggie's mom, a caring mother who decides that it's time for Auggie to leave the protected safety of home schooling and attend school with other kids. Owen Wilson appears as Auggie's dad, a father who thinks it's a mistake to expose Auggie to the bullying and ridicule that surely will taunt him, even in an upscale New York City private school. The Pullman family, of which Auggie is a member, lives comfortably in a Brooklyn brownstone. No arguments about money in this household. Wonder touches many bases. Auggie's older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) tends to be neglected by her parents, who are consumed with Auggie's welfare. Via has her own problems: Her best friend (Danielle Rose Russell) stops speaking to her at the beginning of a new school year. Julian (Bryce Gheisar) becomes Auggie's chief tormenter; Jack (Noah Jupe), a scholarship student who's not sure he fits in either) befriends Auggie. Mandy Patinkin portrays the school's understanding principal; Daveed Diggs appears as one of Auggie's teachers, and Nadji Jeter plays Via's boyfriend. The performances are all up-to-snuff in a movie that explores real issues in an idealized environment. Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) engineers the story to jerk some tears and provide hope. Wonder qualifies as worthy YA fiction. I saw it at a showing that was full of kids, who seemed involved in the movie's every turn, but as an OA (old adult), the movie struck me as a bit of an after-school special -- albeit one emboldened by marquee names and an estimable message; i.e., that we never can be entirely sure we understand why people behave as they do.

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