Thursday, 7 December 2017

Movie Review: Wonder (2017)



www.thegaia.org
The plot: August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), after being homeschooled by his parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) up until that point, starts to go to a mainstream school. As he tries to deal with people’s reaction to his rare facial deformity, his interactions with the students and teachers inspire those around him to start thinking differently about the things that they see.







I think we’re at the point where we can officially call Jacob Tremblay a rising star. Along with being able to act through all the prosthetics he’s been given, the way he just breezes through his rather snarky dialogue is quite enjoyable to watch. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as his parents… okay, that pairing alone is more than a little weird, but credit to them in that they actually come across as not only loving parents but manage to say some of the bigger truths contained in this film. Yeah sure, those moments were also included in the trailer, but they still pack a punch in context thanks to their performances. Daveed Diggs, who depending on who you ask is either better known for bringing the title character of Hamilton to life on stage or for his inhumanly breathless flows as part of the noise-hop group clipping., does decently as Auggie’s teacher, although I personally think he wasn’t in it nearly enough. Izabella Vidovic is good as Auggie’s sister Via, Danielle Rose Russell gets some unexpectedly strong moments to herself as Via’s best friend, Noah Jupe and Millie Davis as Auggie’s friends Jack and Summer work really well opposite him, and Bryce Gheisar as the main bully Julian is good, but after seeing Crystal Lowe portray Bitch Triumphant as his mother, his two-faced antics somehow become less awful by comparison.

This is going to seem like a minor thing to get hung up about but this honestly needs to be addressed: The inclusion of Star Wars imagery in this is really, really bloody distracting. Maybe it’s just because this is yet another year that has forced Star Wars-related guff down our throats for the majority of it, but even as justified by being Auggie’s main fandom, it definitely pulls one out of the moment. It starts out fine at first with him and his dad having lightsaber fights in the living room, but then we get to a point where both Darth Sidious and Chewbacca make appearances, the latter of which turns quite a few times throughout the film. Basically, take everything that I said about the pop culture referencing in The Babysitter and look at this as the exact opposite of that. Rather than being a means to connect characters together, it just ends up feeling like this is just a stealth piece of advertisement for Last Jedi. Given what I’ve already seen in terms of companies trying desperately to get bank from the Star Wars bandwagon, that possibility should not be this probable.

Beyond just minor gripes, the Star Wars stuff sticks out like a sore thumb because it’s a side effect of what is actually a really good bit of thematic storytelling. The initial marketing makes this look like it’s solely Auggie’s story and that’s technically not true. As the film goes on, we start getting moments from the direct perspectives of other characters, such as Via and Jack Will and even Miranda. I’d be more annoyed at the possible subterfuge if it weren’t for the fact that there is a very definite thread tying all of their plots together: How people cope with life. One of the more prominent images of the film is Auggie wearing a space helmet to cover up his face, and that is actually fitting for everyone else given what they are also trying to hide. Via, while being on good terms with her brother, is nonetheless jealous of how much attention he gets as opposed to her, to the point where her character arc involves her literally taking the spotlight away from someone else. Well, being given the spotlight is more accurate, which leads us to Miranda… and I wasn’t kidding when I said that her moments are unexpected. She adds to the tapestry by essentially lying about who she is, using details from someone else’s life in order to make her own seem less dour. But this is rather in-depth; for those like Jack Will and even Julian, it manifests itself more plainly as typical school peer pressure, talking behind people’s backs and turning a deceptive face towards those who could do something about it.

I know I’ve likely spoiled a good chunk of the film with that last paragraph, but here’s the thing: As good as all this sounds, this film unfortunately ends up being rather underwhelming. Hell, I highlighted Crystal Lowe’s performance at the start because that one moment of supreme heinosity? That was the one moment that really got me to connect with the film, and it wasn’t exactly for the best of reasons. And that’s the problem right there: The moments that make up this film. On their own, they are all quite effective and tap into solid emotions and even show a degree of nuance in their contents. As part of a larger narrative, however, pretty much all of them end up losing their flavour before too long. There is a loose sense of progression to the plot, in the form of Auggie making it through a year’s worth of mainstream school, but as the other character perspectives get brought in, even that starts to lose its focus. After a while, it starts to feel less like a well-constructed narrative with a beginning and an end and more like a collection of disparate scenes threaded together to get a reaction from the audience. This might go to explain why the “which superpower would you have?” conversation from the marketing is nowhere to be found in the final product: The film’s structure is so loose that it’s a scene that wouldn’t have made much of a difference even if it was included.

All in all, this is honestly really disappointing. Taken piece by piece, it’s rather effective with solid acting and surprisingly textured writing (“surprisingly” because the co-writer/director Stephen Chbosky also helped cock up Beauty And The Beast earlier this year). Taken in its entirety, it most certainly isn’t worth more than the sum of its parts, as the muddled story structure ends up detracting from the film’s emotional connection after a while. That, and the intrusion of Star Wars characters is kind of annoying. It’s better than Baywatch, as while some visual elements are definitely distracting, they aren’t nearly as slapshod as those in Baywatch. DOP Don Burgess may be in the middle of a big decline in terms of work, to the point of working with PureFlix of all bloody companies this year, but he definitely helps this look nice. However, even though this honestly has stronger components, Going In Style was more cohesive and feels more like a complete experience. A slightly weaker experience overall, but at least everything fitted.

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