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Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Movie Review: Wonder (2017)

Cast: Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin, David Diggs
Genre: Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $154 million 

Plot: The inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time

'The Wonder Of You'

It's been a long while since I last enjoyed a Julia Roberts movie and performance; not since Mona Lisa Smile of 2003 have I been left impressed or fully enjoyed a film of hers that she has starred or appeared in. Hailed as one of the last true movie stars of her generation as she got older, the glossy multi-million blockbusters that adorn her name have now been few and far between. Once the young Hollywood golden girl of the late 1980s right into the early 2000s, a great Julia Roberts demanded an even greater performance, which she delivered through Steel Magnolias, The Pelican Brief and Erin Brockovich (still her best effort by a long distance). She is a terrific actress, in my eyes anyway, but some or be it most of her films either don't appeal to me or I disliked them for several reasons. I enjoyed her performance in Steven Spielberg's Hook, despite the harsh mauling she received for it. I never liked Pretty Woman, Something to Talk About, Runaway Bride, Notting Hill to name. Additionally, she's had several financial duds; her last high-profile efforts, Mother's Day and Money Monster didn't light up the stage and of course, given my sheer distaste for 2010's Eat, Pray, Love having being burnt by that experience, I'd truly thought there would never be another movie of Roberts that I'd ever get into and enjoy. 

Fortunately, this is so not the case towards Wonder, since, Mona Lisa Smile, but in Wonder, for the first time in eons, well, it turned out to be a nice, pleasant experience that although it is not quite the return to form for Roberts, nor does it manage to reach the dizzy heights of Erin Brockovich, this is still a nice movie for other reasons, besides Julia Roberts's performance. It still does feel as though it wasn't as grand and amazing as people lauded and as I'd wanted it to be. 

It's well-acted and as thoughtfully rendered as this family drama is, I came away from Wonder, having such high expectations and looking forward to a great film, given the hearty praise and plaudits it has garnered from different people, admiring the efforts by the cast through their performances - but also it just wasn't quite the movie that I wanted this to be and that I really wanted it to wow me. & Wonder just fell short of those expectations.

Based on the 2012 novel of the same name, Jacob Tremblay is August Pullman aka Auggie: a boy born with a facial disfigurement and who has undergone dozens of facial surgeries, as a result of a genetic mutation. Mother Isabel believes that Auggie needs to be in school to receive his education, rather than to continue his studies at home. Auggie is a smart kid, but he is worried that the teasing and bullying will never stop. Wonder also tries to explore the other characters through their own individual subplots, notably Isabel and Via, Auggie's sister. Isabel and the other adult characters are not touched upon as much, and whilst some people may be happy with that and they act as background fodder, I did feel the writer should have made more of an effort shoehorning them into the film and make them more of a mainstay. 

Julia Roberts gives an understated and earnest turn, as for once, though her name appears on the poster, she is not the main star and doesn't dominate proceedings as many would expect her to do. Her character, Isabel, Auggie's mother is also an MA student & children's book illustrator who has a keen eye for detail. Owen Wilson as Nate gives a satisfactory performance also, although I do feel that both he and Roberts are underutilised and look mismatched as a couple. Whilst I wouldn't want Roberts to steal the limelight and hog all of the attention away from Jacob, I was a little underwhelmed that her role, as good and nice as it was, despite her little moments, it wasn't that profound. Having said that, it was still good to see her back on the big screen, playing a likeable and well-meaning character and in a movie that I liked. That, and whenever she was onscreen, her presence certainly elevated her scenes, and thus showing all those years of experience do count for something when she is in a movie with a good premise as this one. 

Julian's mother is just a horrible piece of work and I was a little disappointed that we never got a scene where Isabelle confronted her and gave her a piece of her mind. 

There is that risk of a movie becoming too overly sentimental and mawkish by being emotionally manipulative, it becomes a turn-off in more ways than one, although thankfully, I don't feel that was the case with Wonder. Yet, whilst it is good that it didn't turn into a syrupy, sappy affair, in parts, the story felt a little underwhelming with some lull scenes that had me switching off. It was a little too linear and I felt that there needed to have been more to give it that extra push and incentive it needed to galvanise interest. 

The film needs to evoke emotion, and yet even with the performances, the most impressive by Tremblay, followed by Roberts, the film just couldn't quite hold up as well with just that alone. 

Though it didn't bleat on and on its messages about tolerance and acceptance, sometimes it did feel as though it did sugarcoat things and never went as far to highlight the traumas of bullying and the serious implications that go with it, especially for the perpetrator. When conflict arises, it's never intense, but neither does it make such a profounding impact that made me sit up and gasp in awe. Because it is a G-rated affair and the film chooses to appeal to kids and families and provide a positive experience, the bullying is never as nasty and cruel. & with that, it doesn't equate to being a fully-fledged drama about being yourself, accepting who you are and your scars do not break you as a person, but that it makes you stronger. Having been bullied in the past myself, I endured a lot of horrible teasing and bad words, mostly racially motivated, and even though intentional physical threats of violence were made towards me, they were never carried out. So in that respect, I do relate to what Auggie had gone through at school. 

However, by not making full use of Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, Wonder certainly lacks any real dramatic weight and impetus, which they would have so easily provided, to be considered a thoroughly perfect film that hits all the right notes. 


Pros +

- Julia Roberts was good

- Young star Jacob Tremblay did well

- Is tasteful & well-meaning 

Cons -

- It didn't quite blow my mind

- Didn't really buy into Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts as an onscreen couple & not enough individual scenes of them 

- Lacks dramatic weight and punch as a film

Final Verdict:

The film is conceived in a slightly more interesting- if no more entertaining manner as Mona Lisa Smile and even with the lack of Julia Roberts, I expected the story to make a massive impact and for the film to grab me in and never let go. But Wonder didn't quite do that, which is a bit of a shame as the story's theme and the concept were what intrigued me in the first place. 

I don't doubt it wears its heart on its sleeve, but the execution left me wanting more and it just didn't go as far to fully do that and to fully make me love this film. And so, as I was so looking forward to how great this would be, it was rather underwhelming with not enough of Julia Roberts's Isabel and in doing so, Wonder underestimated its own intentions, whilst lacking that extra weight this film needed a great deal. 

Julia Roberts fully delivered, whereas with this effort, not so much. 


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