Review / ‘Wonder’ (PG) *** and a half

WRITER/director Stephen Chbosky’s film is a family saga that confronts issues about growing up in a middle-class society underpinned by materialism and a nanny state environment.

Its basis is a novel by RJ Palacio about 11-year-old Auggie whose appearance due to a genetic aberration makes him look different from expected norms. He has had 27 surgical events to rebuild his face. He wears a full-face helmet so that people won’t see his features. His mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) has home schooled him. Now it’s time to enrol at Beecher Elementary School to begin fifth grade.

The reaction of classmates is perhaps a cliché. He doesn’t look normal, so nobody wants to be his friend. When he turns out to be good at science, Jack (Noah Jupe) buddies up to him because he can be useful in class. His older sister Olivia a.k.a Via (Izabela Vidovic) loves him but she’s at high school now and can’t protect him, not that he expects protection. Via has her own issues involving friendships and whether to go for a part in a production of Thornton Wilder’s seminal stage play “Our Town”.

“Wonder” works on more than school issues. It’s cosy. It’s weepy. It exemplifies decency while acknowledging that life isn’t all roses and examines the thorns. But most of all, it gives us Auggie, a character to whom it is easy to relate and admire and respect for his determination to transcend the bum deal that his genes dealt him. Its reflections of childhood and family have universal relevance. For those and other useful reasons in an imperfect world, it’s not surprising that it has already grossed $US73 million. Which it deserves more than any blockbuster.

Be not dismayed by Auggie’s face. Underneath the prostheses, young actor Jacob Tremblay has an agreeably normal face.

At Hoyts, Palace Electric and Capitol 6

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