Arts

Film review: Wonder wonderfully illustrates the life lesson that beauty comes from within

Jacob Tremblay, the child star of Irish-produced 2015 film Room, is at the centre of a great ensemble cast in Wonder, about the family of a 10-year-old boy disfigured by a rare genetic syndrome. Damon Smith found it a heartfelt, moving and charming film

Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts, Jacob Tremblay, Izabela Vidovic and Danielle Rose Russell in Wonder

CHRISTMAS comes early with the aptly titled Wonder. Lovingly adapted from the award-winning 2012 novel by RJ Palacio, this exquisitely calibrated drama eschews mawkish sentimentality but still has us weeping uncontrollably by the end credits.

An elegant script penned by director Stephen Chbosky, Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne confidently navigates the choppy emotional waters that threaten to separate four members of a Manhattan family, who have learnt the hard way that beauty comes from within.

A simple bookmark structure alternates between narrators, exposing chinks in the characters' armours as they wrestle with insecurities and learn life lessons from a 10-year-old boy with a rare genetic syndrome, which has resulted in 27 agonising surgeries to painstakingly rebuild his face.

A stellar cast led by Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and 11-year-old wunderkind Jacob Tremblay, who narrowly missed out on an Oscar nomination for his stunning performance in the 2015 film Room, inhabit each flawed protagonist with tenderness.

It's a magnificent ensemble effort, right down to the smallest roles on the periphery. Chbosky directs with an assured touch, allowing the dazzling cast to do most of the heavy emotional lifting without recourse to Brazilian composer Marcelo Zarvos to shamelessly pluck at our heartstrings.

Auggie Pullman (Tremblay) has been home-schooled since birth by his mother Isabel (Roberts) but she feels the time has come for her boy to venture into the classroom.

"It's like leading a lamb to the slaughter, and you know it," Auggie's concerned father Nate (Wilson) warns his wife, fearing the reaction of other children to Auggie's disfigurement.

The family stands united at the gates of Beecher Prep school for Auggie's first day.

"You can't blend in when you were born to stand out," sweetly whispers Auggie's older sister Olivia (Izabela Vidovic) before he meets his form teacher Mr Browne (Daveed Diggs).

The youngster makes new friends including Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and Summer (Millie Davis) but his facial scars make him an obvious target for resident bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar).

Meanwhile, painfully shy Olivia also faces isolation when she is rejected by her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell).

Wonder draws on wonderful source material to deliver a deeply moving family portrait that will enchant audiences of all ages.

Roberts and Wilson are an appealing parental double-act and Vidovic beautifully illuminates the guilt that gnaws at Olivia every time she feels jealous about the attention lavished upon Auggie.

"My house is the universe and revolves around the son... not the daughter," she sombrely observes.

Tremblay might be concealed behind prosthetics and a wig but he conveys every flicker of Auggie's raw emotions with precision beyond his tender years. The two-hour running time passes with copious laughter and tears.

Only a stone-cold heart will be able to resist the film's sincere and heartfelt charms.

WONDER (PG, 113 mins) Drama/Romance. Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Naveen Diggs, Noah Jupe, Danielle Rose Russell, Nadji Jeter, Bryce Gheisar, Daveed Diggs, Mandy Patinkin, Millie Davis. Director: Stephen Chbosky

RATING: 8/10

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