Tag: stephen chbosky

Wonder


Wonder (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Once in a while a family film like “Wonder” comes along to remind everybody that the sub-genre is plagued by awful and generic movies, often so loud, obnoxious, and busy that they end up saying absolutely nothing, forgotten about even before the end credits roll. Here is a film imbued with expected lessons regarding kindness and empathy, but what makes it special is director Stephen Chbosky putting his finger on the pulse of what makes this particular story worth telling, about a fifth grader with a facial deformity attending school with other children for the first time. It is willing to show kids as living, breathing, complex young people rather than wooden caricatures surrounded by slapstick humor and crude jokes involving bodily functions. The film has plenty of heart and a brain, too.

The structure of the film is fascinating, especially for a sub-genre notorious for playing it safe. Although Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is in the center of it, the story is not just about him. It shows how one person’s struggle affects nearly everyone in his orbit, especially those who love and care about him. We get small glimpses of how, for example, Auggie’s elder sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), must, in a way, shove her personal struggles in the backseat when at home so her parents (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson) can instead turn their complete attention to her brother who is having a very difficult time adjusting to his new routine.

And yet Via is not shown merely as a saintly sister. She has yearnings and needs as a daughter and as a teenager. We even root for her to be selfish once in a while because she is a part of the household, too. Each character who receives a title card before we see the story through his or her eyes is intriguing in some way. I wished the film were three hours or longer because I wanted to get to know every one of them thoroughly.

It takes great talent and discipline to be able to communicate the necessary subtleties of thought and emotion while wearing a mask or prosthetic. Even adult actors usually have trouble with such a task. Tremblay is an A-level performer in the making and I hope that throughout his young and promising career, he would choose to take on a range of characters who may not necessarily be likable so long as they are interesting.

Here, he makes it look so easy to perform through heavy makeup and prosthetics. I applaud him for not relying on being cute but one aspiring to deliver a believable boy who just so happens to have a genetic mutation. Another performer worth looking out for is Noah Jupe, playing Auggie’s friend Jack Will. He takes a typical “nice boy” character and gives it a bit of edge through minute, sometimes subtle, facial expressions. It is the correct approach because the movie, is seen through various perspectives. We wonder whether there might be something else to this character that is worth looking into. We await his title card.

Based on the novel by R.J. Palacio and helmed for the screen by Chbosky, Steve Conrad, and Jack Thorne, I admired that the material loves and respects children. As someone who has worked with kids, I found its honesty to be refreshing in terms of how intelligent and perceptive children can be. Even those who are mean are shown to be aware of their cruelty. It makes the audience look beyond behavior and consider why certain characters choose to take action that might hurt others. It is rare when films for families touch upon potentially confronting realities. So many are too safe and forgettable. It is because they fail to inspire discussion.

Time will tell whether “Wonder” will become a modern classic. This might come across as a ridiculous claim, but I choose to stand by it because it possesses numerous elements that just might boost it to such a status. For instance, it is a feel-good film but it is unafraid to put the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions on top of strong performances all around. Many of us relate to the underdog story. Some of us may still remember how it is like to feel ugly in school, to be stared at, to be laughed at, to be bullied. And if does stand the test of time, well, that’s a wonderful thing.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower


The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Over the summer, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is hospitalized due to what sounds like a suicide attempt. He writes a letter to a friend and claims that he is very anxious about his first day as a high school freshman because he does not want people think of him as “that weird kid who spent time in a hospital.” His situation isn’t helped by the fact that he has an introverted personality and he finds it difficult to make friends. For a while, Charlie struggles to find a connection with his peers until he meets outgoing Patrick (Ezra Miller) and empathic Sam (Emma Watson), seniors, at a football game.

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” based on the novel, screenplay, and directed by Stephen Chbosky, is one of the reasons why I believe that coming-of-age movies are immortal. Although the story attempts to tackle familiar elements, like teenagers feeling alienation and isolation, such are expanded upon in ways that are refreshing and exciting. Furthermore, it is executed with a genuine love for its characters and it challenges us to deconstruct our notions about convenient labeling.

The commonalities among Charlie, Patrick, and Sam are rendered beautifully but never obvious. As young adults still trying to figure out who they are, we watch them get into situations that are out of their control and their forthcoming struggles. Charlie remains to grieve over his best friend’s death, Patrick falls for a boy who isn’t out of the closet (Johnny Simmons), and Sam strives to put her life back on track despite a reputation that followed her throughout high school. Because Chbosky takes the time for us to understand the trio’s messy pasts, their current but constantly evolving wants and needs, and what they wish to accomplish in the future, we eventually grow to want what is best for them. By the end, it feels like we know these characters as people who live and breathe instead of cardboard caricatures that happen to be in a movie with a light yellow glow wrapped in a melancholy tone.

In theory, the material at times should have collapsed under its own earnestness. Too much narration and the screenplay might have told more than shown; too much soundtrack and it might have come off as syrupy or serve as padding when the characters ought to be talking to one another. Instead, the aforementioned techniques are used only during the right moments as to highlight an insight or trend in order to enhance our experience toward familiarizing ourselves with what is at stake for each respective character. Since the material has the necessary focus to tell its story, there is a rhythm in the small and critical revelations sans ostentatiousness that distracts.

Despite having a main character that has thoughts about ending his life, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” aims to instill hope and live one’s life no matter what one’s age. It isn’t without genuine moments of comedy. The late night reenactments of Jim Sharman’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” at a local theatre quickly comes to mind as well as Patrick’s brutally honest remarks toward his friends. With so many children and teens who decide that their life is somehow not worth living, whether it is because of bullies that make attending school feel like walking barefoot through the embers of hell or living with a secret that cannot be shared out of fear that no one can be trusted, this film is a beacon for it shows alternatives on how one can regain control of his or her life and changing it for the better. It makes the case that the foolish twiddle with their thumbs and wait for change to happen while those who choose to participate and try to implement the changes that they want to see happen are the ones who come out on top.