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Family Movie Review: Wonder (PG)

Kernel Rating (out of 5):  (3.5 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG       Length: 113 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 10+. The plot focuses on a tween boy with a genetic condition that other children and bullies like to mock, so there is a lot of bullying here, including name-calling, rumor-spreading, mean notes, the suggestion that the boy is ugly or infected, and an exchange where the boy is told to kill himself. It may be overwhelming for younger viewers who like the protagonist and don’t understand the cruelty of the other children. Otherwise, a teen romance with some kissing; adults joke about drinking, and some grownups are shown drinking to excess; some rude jokes, some bathroom humor, and a few fistfights; a beloved pet dies.

This adaptation of the bestselling young-adult novel ‘Wonder’ is warm and kind, and young viewers will identify with the charming protagonist who is curious about when people will stop caring about what he looks like outside and will be more interested in who he is inside.

By Roxana Hadadi

Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) loves “Star Wars.” His room is covered in themed furniture and toys, he imagines Chewbacca roaming the halls of his elementary school, and his favorite character is Boba Fett. He loves Halloween and his older sister; he’s fascinated by space; and science is his favorite subject. He is, in so many ways, just another average fifth-grader—but so many of his peers won’t treat him like “normal.”

Instead, because of his face, which is somewhat misshapen as the result of a genetic disorder that has made him sick for years and had kept him home schooled until fifth grade, they are cruel to him. And so much of “Wonder,” the big-screen adaptation of the YA bestseller by R. J. Palacio, is spent with Auggie as he tries to navigate his new life at Beecher Prep School. Why are certain kids so mean to him? (On the very first day, a bully calls him Barf Hideous, a play on a “Star Wars” character name.) Why do others just stare at him, and then look away?

“Is it always gonna matter?” he asks his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) about his face. “I don’t know,” she truthfully answers, and her tone is a mixture of weariness and concern. But the advice she gives him shapes his interactions with his peers on every day after that first one: “This is the map that shows us where we’re going,” she says, and points at her heart. “This is the map that shows us where we’ve been,” she concludes, and points to her face. And if Auggie can learn to be proud of and comfortable with the latter while following the former, he’ll turn out alright.

What “Wonder” does that is somewhat ingenious is then switch perspectives from Auggie to his older sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), who for years has been a studious child who kept to herself as her parents were consumed with Auggie’s health. But now, on her first day at a new high school, she wants to try something different—so she signs up for a theater elective on a whim. Her former best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), had noted once that the Pullman family “revolved around the son”—but Via wants her parents to love and notice her, too.

The perspective keeps changing during “Wonder,” and what that does is create sympathy and fondness from us as viewers to characters who may not initially seem that likeable—but whose depths are revealed when we spend some time in their shoes. We see the perspective of Auggie’s first friend Jack Will (Noah Jupe), who is struggling with the knowledge that as the scholarship student at Beecher Prep, his home life is miles away from his wealthy friends, and of Miranda, whose parents’ divorce has left her feeling adrift and alone. And through it all is the steadying force of Isabel, who is played with a noticeable sensitivity and quiet determination by Roberts. She and Tremblay have good chemistry together, and their close relationship is the anchor for many others throughout “Wonder.”

The movie does a good job balancing what it seems like tweens and teens are really like, from their cliquishness to their kindness, with the dramatic elements needed for the movie to maintain audience interest, such as the numerous run-ins with the bullies that target Auggie. It’s a rhythm that is easy to fall into, and that the movie does well. “Wonder” is just the right kind of gentle, welcoming, and truly family-friendly film we all need right now.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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