Jacob Tremblay is quickly becoming the go-to kid actor in Hollywood. And why not? He's cute. He can act. And he's always able to wring a tear from a hardhearted audience.
"Wonder," then, seemed like a good fit.
Instead, it's an all-too-safe drama that doesn't take advantage of the story's inherent drama.
Inspired by an encounter author R.J. Palacio had with a boy with a facial deformity, it attempts to show how those around with him help him deal with taunts and stares.
Director Stephen Chbosky has the right people in play. He just doesn't know how to move them.
Despite top billing, Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson are merely shoulders for Tremblay who nicely plays August Pullman, the boy with the facial disorder.
Tremblay gets his best moments with Noah Jupe as a scholarship student who’s assigned to show him around. Since Auggie hasn’t gone to school with other students (his mom insisted on home-schooling), no one’s quite sure how he – or they – will react. Sure enough, kids make fun of him, call him names and suggest others will “get the plague” if they touch him.
Jupe’s Jack Will remains steadfast and learns to love Auggie’s sense of humor and science ability. But he’s not immune from the lure of the “cool” kids. Their taunts create a rift and “Wonder” becomes the story of a friendship broken for no real reason.
The two young actors are great – Jupe especially – and make their cheers for one another worth acknowledging.
But a subplot with Auggie’s sister (Izabela Vidovic) should have been rethought before someone decided what “Wonder” really needed is a good school production of “Our Town.”
There’s a best friend the sister has been ignoring, too, but the “treat friends like dirt” storylines aren’t parallel.
Chbosky wraps all of his loose ends with one good awards ceremony, ignoring the stink two rich parents create when they learn their son is going to school with a “freak.”
Mandy Patinkin, as the school principal, gets his chance to shout down the 1 percenters and demonstrate it isn’t acceptable to photoshop a kid out of his class picture.
Tears fall – and, yes, even if you’re as hardened as we are to this kind of storytelling, you’ll shed them – but they’re not the kind of “earned” tears we’ve seen from films like “Mask,” “The Elephant Man” or “Darkman.”
The only inspired touch is tossing Chewbacca into the mix and letting him comment on the action.
He doesn’t have much to say, but we can bet he’s just as disappointed in the path “Wonder” takes to find its galaxy. Sometimes there are faults in those stars, too.