Things are not going great this month, a phrase I have said for a solid year now but is still apt every damn time. That horrendous tax bill passed the House of Representatives. More and more women and men who have been objectified or abused by powerful men in seemingly all worlds—comedy, politics, Hollywood—have been coming forward with their stories, and of course there are people who very loudly and very antagonistically don’t believe them. International disasters, like the earthquake on the Iran-Iraq border, have killed hundreds. There was another mass shooting in the U.S., one that yet again was precipitated by domestic abuse. And amid all this crap, when given the opportunity to turn off my brain during the charmingly inoffensive, soothing balm of Wonder, I took it.
There are too many damn movies with the word “wonder” in their titles this year. There was the excellent Wonder Woman, obviously. A few weeks ago saw the release of Todd Haynes’s little-seen Wonderstruck, and I’m still trying to figure out why this most recent film from the director of Carol has so mightily struggled to find its footing. And the tedious-looking Wonder Wheel from Woody Allen is still getting an awards push from Amazon Studios, which is offensive given that I think they should be throwing every ounce of effort behind The Big Sick. The press tour for Wonder Wheel has me constantly rolling my eyes at Kate Winslet, who first gushed about how Allen writes roles “empowering to women” and who more recently, in the weeks post-Weinstein, has changed her tune: in this interview with Variety, she “respectfully” refused to answer any questions about allegations against him and her decision to work with him. (Aside: Can more people ask Justin Timberlake these questions, too? Winslet isn’t giving good answers, but Timberlake should be grilled just as much for his willingness to work with Allen).
Finally, released this weekend is Wonder, an actually family-friendly (looking at you, Daddy’s Home 2) film based on the young-adult novel by author Raquel Jaramillo/R. J. Palacio. Readers, I escaped fully into this movie, which clearly is not meant for 30-year-olds like me but HERE WE ARE.
As fifth-grader Auggie, who has a genetic disorder that has resulted in years of sickness, constant surgeries, and a unique face, the absurdly cute Jacob Tremblay is barely recognizable, but that voice you remember from Room is still astonishingly adorable. The film tracks Auggie’s transition from home schooling by his challenging, loving mother, played quite sensitively by Julia Roberts, to his first in-school experience at an upper-crust prep school in New York City. Auggie faces bullies, daydreams about Chewbacca attending school with him, makes diverse friends, and is taught by LAFAYETTE from Hamilton. Cast Daveed Diggs in everything!
Auggie’s sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), in her first year of high school, falls in love with a classmate (in an interracial relationship as satisfying as the one in this spring’s underrated Everything, Everything) and finds her passion for theater. Their mother, the encouraging and creative Isabel, finishes the dissertation she had to abandon when Auggie started getting sick. Their father, played by Owen Wilson, is a lovable goof who pops up every so often to provide subdued zaniness. They live in a disgustingly perfect brownstone with EXPOSED HARDWOOD EVERYWHERE and Auggie has a bedroom full of home furnishings from ThinkGeek that I need and the bullies realize the errors of their ways and are eventually nice to Auggie and there was an undercurrent of gentle kindness that I absorbed immediately.
What really clinched my joy was Roberts, who has been generating headlines for turning 50 this year and with whom I have an inexplicable fascination. I love her when she’s determined and principled in Erin Brockovich:
And I love when she’s desperate and seething in August: Osage County:
And goddammit I really, really love when she laughs. I am that person still supporting the outdated A-list movie-star model! That is me, showing up for Julia! In one scene in Wonder, her character and Wilson’s have a night alone at home, and when she presents him with a copy of her finally finished dissertation and gleefully suggests, “Let’s get drunk!” he reveals a surprise he has for her. Is it lingerie? Something sexual? We never get a clear look at what is inside the box he hands her, but whatever it is, it’s naughty enough to get this guffaw out of Roberts.
When that big ol’ grin showed up, I vaulted from “pleasantly engaged” to “utterly hooked.” Her infectious laugh adds a lightness Wonder needs, and her easy rapport with Tremblay is winning, too. How can you not feel joy when Julia Roberts feels joy? Have you SEEN these smiles?
It’s silly, but I stand by it: During Wonder, Julia Roberts and all her damn teeth helped me feel good for a few hours in the middle of a week that has otherwise made me feel pretty bad. Thanks for the chompers, Julia.