Yep, it is manipulative as heck, full of all the things you’d expect (including, but not limited to): sweet story, funny kids, funny pets, understanding adults, and an idealized, fairly nice world. I’d avoided this movie initially for fear of that being all it was. But, I admit, the story is told in an engaging way and the casting is superb. Jacob Tremblay (Room) proves again he can negotiate complex emotional roles despite his young years.
Izabela Vidovic (About a Boy), as his older sister, also builds out a nice performance. His two friends, Noah Jupe (The Night Manager) and Millie Davis (Orphan Black) have some great moments and arcs as well. There are plenty of other good performances, but these three really dominated the younger cast.
There are some big-name adults in this tale too. Julia Roberts (Money Monster) , Owen Wilson (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb), and Mandy Patinkin (Homeland) figure most prominently. Each are complex, but perfected versions of the characters they inhabit. That perfection makes the whole movie feel rather safe and sanitized. Great for younger audiences, I suppose, but it makes it a little less believable for adults. It is a credit to the film that you want to believe their sense of the world, but it also makes the overall film evaporate in your head like mental cotton candy when you leave the theater.
Unlike writer/director Stephen Chbosky’s previous, non-traditional Perks of Being a Wallflower, this script runs closer to his Beauty and the Beast adaptation in level of risk. To be fair, this movie was also co-written with two others, which may have shifted the sensibility. However, Jack Thorne (The Fades) and Steve Conrad (Secret Life of Walter Mitty) each have edgy credits of their own, so perhaps it was just the source material. It isn’t something that will be easily untangled without inside information, so I have to point fingers at all of them on the result.
Wonder will do all the things you expect of it. You will be tied in knots, and laugh, and inwardly cheer at the various twists and turns of the story. It will leave you feeling good about the world and about the possibilities of life. It has great messages for everyone about how to be better and more embracing of the world. Yes, I enjoyed the ride of it all, and you will too…it is designed that way. I can’t say it is a great film, but I can say it won’t waste your time when you’re willing to be ridden like a horse to where it wants to take you. And, you know what? Sometimes we all like to get on a roller-coaster that we know where its going and what it will do to us…this is one of those better delivered roller-coasters.