Review Roundup: Julia Roberts, Daveed Diggs Star in WONDER

Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman. Born with facial differences that, up until now, have prevented him from going to a mainstream school, Auggie becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade. As his family, his new classmates, and the larger community all struggle to find their compassion and acceptance, Auggie's extraordinary journey will unite them all and prove you can't blend in when you were born to stand out.

Starring Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Jacob Tremblay, Mandy Patinkin, Daveed Diggs, and Izabela Vidovic. Based on the best-selling novel by R.J. Palacio. Written for the screen by Stephen Chbosky and Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne. Directed by Stephen Chbosky.

Before WONDER hits theaters this FridayNovember 17, let's see what the critics have to say about the family film.

Glenn Kenny, The New York Times: "Directed by Stephen Chbosky, who wrote the screenplay with Steve Conrad and Jack Thorne, the movie has a cast that's wonderful from top to bottom. As Auggie's parents, Ms. Roberts and Mr. Wilson are doing things we love to see those actors doing. (Ms. Roberts lets loose with her trademark ebullient laugh at least once, and Mr. Wilson explains life's issues to Auggie in a droll drawl.) All the young people in the ensemble, anchored by Mr. Tremblay's Auggie, are perfect. WONDER is that rare thing, a family picture that moves and amuses while never overtly pandering. Mr. Chbosky's 2012 feature, THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, split the difference between the sentimental heart-tugging associated with more standard Hollywood fare, and the intelligence and intimacy often associated with independent films. He accomplishes something very similar, and equally worthwhile, here."

Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly: "The movie basically follows Augie's school year at a private school: the cruel teasing he suffers, the unlikely friendships he makes, the prejudices he helps others overcome. But Chbosky approaches the familiar material with clever touches, telling the story not just through Augie's pint-sized eyes, but also those of his neglected older sister (Izabela Vidovic), her best friend (Danielle Rose Russell), and his classmates (including Noah Jupe and Bryce Gheisar). It doesn't hurt that smaller supporting parts are played by seasoned pros like Mandy Patinkin and Sonia Braga. But the real star here is Tremblay, whose sad saucer eyes and thousand-watt smile are like an antidote to the tear-jerker genre's clichés, like not one but two slow-clap moments of triumph. Yes, you've seen some version of this before, but rarely done this well, this tastefully, and with this much restraint. Will you know that you're being manipulated? Duh. But the wonder of WONDER is you won't mind a bit. B+."

Sheri Linden, The Hollywood Reporter: "Through it all, Tremblay gives full-blooded life to Auggie's emotional roller coaster of breakthroughs and betrayals, his posture and energy shifting expressively; he's transformed, not hidden, by the prosthetic makeup (designed by Arjen Tuiten, whose credits include PAN'S LABYRINTH and MALEFICENT). Whether Auggie is declaring his understandable enthusiasm for Halloween, making sharp observations about his schoolmates or demanding answers to some of life's knottiest questions, the sweetness of the young actor's voice heightens the sense of optimism and vulnerability. WONDER is a story of connection, not suffering. Dramatizing one boy's effect on the people around him, it invites the viewer into that fold."

Owen Gleiberman, Variety: "It's a very tasteful heart-tugger - a drama of disarmingly level-headed empathy that glides along with wit, assurance, and grace, and has something touching and resonant to say about the current climate of American bullying. At the same time, the film never upsets the apple cart of conventionality WONDER is an honest feel-good movie, but it lacks the pricklier edges of art...Of all the films this year with "wonder" in the title (WONDERSTRUCK, WONDER WOMAN, WONDER WHEEL, PROFESSOR MARSTON AND THE WONDER WOMEN), this is the one that comes closest to living up to the emotional alchemy of that word."

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: "Giving the film credit where it's due, WONDER never cheats in its pursuit of emotion. It's (almost) never mawkish or manipulative, and its characters are so well-established both in the writing and in the performances that the movie ultimately does the hard work of earning those damp Kleenexes. As with horror and comedy, those who are resistant to this kind of film will definitely resist this one in particular...It could have been very easy for this to be the sort of film that merely allows audiences to take a good, long look at a character with facial defects (while encouraging us to judge characters who do likewise), but instead, this is a celebration of empathy, a reminder that even the people who might be making us miserable have their own problems and their own people who are making them miserable. Its secret weapon is Tremblay, whose big, Keane-painting eyes defy you not to melt over Auggie and his travails, but it's a solid ensemble through and through."

Joe Dziemianowic, New York Daily News: "It's a "Wonder" - but in name only. Despite earnest intentions, a good cast led by Julia Roberts and Jacob Tremblay and touching moments, cowriter-director Stephen Chbosky's family drama is hamstrung by predictability and heavy-handedness... But mostly WONDER ticks off a check list as it traces a big year: the underdog, the bully, the school play, the science fair, the misunderstanding, the reconciliation, the cheers. And, yes, some tears. Kids may not notice or care, but the movie, which advocates kindness, comes with an irony. It's a film about embracing differences and seeing beyond appearances, but it rarely bucks convention or gets more than skin deep."

David Ehrlich, indieWire: "...the film's greatest strength - and, in a way, perhaps it's only insensitivity - is that Auggie ultimately becomes a means to an end. He's never just a prop for personal growth, but over time that evolves into his primary function. At a certain point, "Wonder" abruptly switches perspectives, reducing Auggie to a supporting role in his own story. The film does this a few time over, entrapping us into passing judgment on a character before forcing us to see things through their eyes...The film works because it finds some genuine common ground: Everybody wants to be seen, but nobody wants to be stared at. Chbosky might yank us through the wringer like we're in a car wash, but it's nice to feel clean for a change. Grade: B."

Photo Credit: WONDER Official Facebook Page

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