‘Blu-ray or Bust’
WONDER (PG, 2017, 113 minutes, LIONSGATE/MANDEVILLE FILMS)
Author/writer/director Stephen Chbosky does it all. Hollywood trusted him with his own work back in 2012, and the result was one of the best screen adaptations of a novel ever committed to celluloid. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER was a perfect little movie, based on Chbosky’s own perfect little book.
Hollywood liked the results so much that they embraced the idea of the man directing another classic book, “Wonder”, written by R.J. Palacio. The book (and film) centers around young Auggie, a boy with Treacher Collins syndrome—a cranial displacement issue which has caused him to have a deformed face. After being home-schooled by his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts, who is trustworthy in any role she plays) for several years, Auggie is ready to start the fifth grade in an actual school. His dad (Owen Wilson, who doesn’t use the word “wow” a single time in the film—yes, I was totally waiting for it) meets this decision with trepidation, his sister Via (the wonderful Izabela Vidovic) with aplomb. The lovely thing about this film is that it is not just told from the boy’s point of view. In the hands of Chbosky, you not only get an adaptation of the book which sticks to the core elements, language, and tone, but you also get a storyteller that cues you in on how the tale is told best.
And while each of the important players get their own turns to tell their part of the story, it all ultimately leads back to Auggie. Played by the amazing Jacob Tremblay, you get emotion from behind the facial deformity that you wouldn’t expect. Several adult actors have problems acting from behind a mask and making it convincing; perhaps if some of them took lessons from Jacob, they might have an easier time of it. He makes the story believable, and gives it its heart. His emotional core is what we are most concerned with, even though we are inevitably drawn into the emotions and minds of the others as well.
The child actors steal this show (the adults do their job, of course, but the standouts are Mandy Patinkin and the incredibly talented Daveed Diggs as Mr. Brown). There is not a single voice which seems forced, nor any performance which appears wooden. The first special feature on the disc is all about directing child actors, and while most productions that feature a predominantly young cast always seem to have trouble behind the scenes, everyone here—especially under the playful direction of Chbosky—does such a natural job that it is easy to forget you are watching a film and not playing witness to the real-life struggles and joys of the lives you are seeing.
Not to say that there aren’t a few hiccups. As a movie for kids, WONDER hits on several notes that will ring true for any of their perspectives. Yet the adults in the film are either good or bad; the kids all straddle those gray areas usually meant for adults, while we get exactly from the adults what you would expect from face value. Of course, the kids are what this film is all about, so their moral decisions and actions are what concern us the most. There just isn’t a whole lot of depth to the adults (although Roberts tries her darnedest).
Of course, I’m going to tell you have to purchase this on Blu-ray. No, no one blows up, there are no chase scenes, and no one gets pummeled by a robot. But this is such an immersive experience; you really should not trust it to anything less than the best visual and audible presentation possible. There are some moments you should witness with the right sound and visual texture, which is pretty much the entire film.
This is certainly a film to watch with your kids—or, let them watch it by themselves. Sometimes it’s better to watch them work some things out on their own, and the helping hand that Chbosky and company lend here makes it an easy path for them to tread.
Film Grade: B+
Special Features: A (several detailed and long docs, and it is awesome to see how much these kids were allowed to be kids during the production)
Blu-ray Necessary: Recommended