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Wonder, in theaters now, makes you think: How great would fifth grade be if you had Mr. Browne (Daveed Diggs) as your teacher, Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin) as your principal, and a children’s book illustrator (Julia Roberts) as your mom? Pretty great, except fifth-grader Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) has a rare genetic disorder that has disfigured his face and made him ashamed to go to school or even look other children in the eye.
Imagine, then, Auggie’s struggle as he stops homeschooling to start fifth grade at a local middle school, where he tries to fit in. Based on the best-selling novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio, the film switches between perspectives of the younger characters: Auggie, his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) who feels ignored as her parents lavish attention on their needy youngest child, the sister’s best friend, and one of Auggie’s classmates. Much of the story centers on Auggie dealing with school bullies and might require Kleenex.
The film, rated PG (for the bullying and brief profanity), is as predictable as a Hallmark card but as comforting as a holiday tradition. (It confusingly joins the ranks other wonder-titled films releasing this year: Wonderstruck, Wonder Wheel, Wonder Woman.) As a warm live-action family drama, Wonder harks back to the 1990s heyday of PG-rated family films and has some vintage touches too: Auggie’s family has a landline phone, and the principal writes physical letters to students who get in trouble.
Some cheesy Hallmark lines make it into the film. Auggie says at one point, “We all deserve a standing ovation once in our lives.” Eye roll, yes, but the underlying idea is the heart of this movie: Everyone has struggles, but everyone has inner worth. By the end you’re rooting for all (OK, most) of the characters.
The cast raises Wonder above mediocrity: Owen Wilson (who plays Auggie’s father) always makes me laugh, and he and Roberts are dynamic together. When one kid expresses jealousy over Auggie’s close family, you understand it. Fifth grade isn’t so bad after all.