Based on the bestselling novel by R.J. Palacio, Wonder is an inspirational drama about 10-year old Auggie Pullman (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), a facially-deformed young boy who wears an astronaut’s helmet to hide his rare genetic condition. Home-schooled until now by his loving family (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), the film follows Auggie in his first year in school, where he’ll learn to navigate playgrounds, friendship groups, and bullies. In parallel, the film shifts viewpoints in chapters that show us the trials and tribulations of other members of Auggie’s life, specifically his older sister, Olivia (Izabela Vidovic), who feels like the third wheel in the family.

At first, this story of triumph over adversity has a distinct whiff of an emotionally-manipulative and mawkish tear-jerker, and first impressions matter… However, you can’t completely dismiss Wonder as a run-of-the-mill Hallmark drama, as it does get some stuff right. The end result will lead to many feeling torn by a movie which constantly sabotages its good efforts by flip-flopping between moments of well-acted, heart-warming emotion, and over-baked beats so syrupy, viewers may feel they’re at risk of developing diabetes. It remains a sincere and frequently empathetic film about choosing kindness at every turn, but frustratingly lacks genuine insight about living with disability. Instead, director Stephen Chbosky paints a world where everyone deep-down has a heart of gold, where financial issues and daily stress are quickly dismissed so that compassion has its day, and where school medals are won for being oneself. Wonder does work as a gentle, well-intentioned family fantasy about self-acceptance, but if you’re looking for a story that dares to tackle some of life’s trickier and more truthful aspects, it might leave you feeling like you’ve od’d on sucrose.

Wonder I Directed by Stephen Chbosky (USA 2017), with Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson Starts Jan 25.

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