The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



If you're in the market for a genuine feel-good movie, you can't do much better than Wonder. It's a real rarity – a family-friendly picture that isn't corny, assumes kids are sophisticated enough to grasp its themes without condescension, and contains an uplifting message that viewers of all ages will be inspired by. We need more just like it.

Jacob Tremblay (Room) plays August “Auggie” Pullman, a young boy with facial deformities. His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has home-schooled him, but she now believes he's ready to enter public school. Father Nate (Owen Wilson) isn't so sure; he worries that Auggie will be made fun of for his appearance. The movie tracks his fifth grade year, as he makes a friend, deals with bullies, and transforms his family, including sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), who feels neglected by their parents because of all the attention on him.

Wonder is one of the best movies ever made on the subject of bullying and how to deal with it. Predictably, there are kids who taunt Auggie simply because he looks different. Other kids merely shy away from him. There are moments when he considers leaving school. Mostly he decides to tough it out. The story illustrates that refusing to back down from bullies is effective, yet also suggests that the real key to victory is allowing all the non-bullies to see the qualities that are special about you. So much of prejudice or hatred comes from fear. Show people that there's no reason to have that fear and it tends to vanish.

Director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) adapts R.J. Palacio's novel in a very effective manner. Although Auggie is the focus, there are individual sections devoted to the people around him: Via, some of the other kids, etc. The intent is to show the impact he has on them. There's some real depth to these parts. One focuses on Via's best friend, Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell), who is like a sister to Auggie. Miranda has inexplicably stopped talking to Via. When the reason is revealed during her personal segment, it goes far beyond typical adolescent snottiness and into the realm of heavy personal insecurity – i.e, her own version of what Auggie goes through.

That kind of richness in character and plot makes Wonder really special. There's great meaning in the story. There's also a lot of fun. Auggie sometimes gets lost in fantasies, including a recurring daydream in which he hangs out with one of the most recognizable pop culture characters of all time. Humor and substance are perfectly balanced, both in just the right proportions.

All the performances are tremendous. Special recognition must go to Jacob Tremblay, though. At such a young age (he's now eleven), this young actor has repeatedly displayed a remarkable level of talent. Even heavily made up to play Auggie, he does expressive, full-bodied work. An inherent risk with a movie like Wonder is the “magical malady” – the ailment suffered by the lead character that makes him or her heroic, simply by virtue of possessing it. Under Tremblay's watch, that cliché is deftly avoided. Like most everyone in the film, we come to find Auggie inspiring not because he's dealing with such a heavy burden, but because he has the kind of indomitable spirit we'd all ideally like to possess.

Wonder takes the viewer through a variety of emotions on the way to a happy ending practically guaranteed to choke you up. A stray moment here or there may be slightly over-sentimental, not that it matters. Kids eight or nine and above will get a useful, relatable message about treating those who are different with compassion. Adults will be reminded of the same thing. Everyone will enjoy themselves watching this beautiful, heartfelt film.

( 1/2 out of four)

Wonder is rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 53 minutes.

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