Walking the line between poignancy and oversentimentality can be difficult for filmmakers as they attempt to tap into our emotions. That was the task taken on by director Stephen Chbosky ("The Perks of Being a Wallflower") when he made 2017's "Wonder," the story of a boy with Treacher Collins syndrome attending his first year of school. Rather than walking the line between poignancy and oversentimentality, Chbosky staggers back and forth across it, giving us some heartfelt, uplifting moments but also plenty of scenes that come across as sappy. The result is a little messy but nevertheless interesting.

The plot

The screenplay, written by Chbosky, Steven Conrad, and Jack Thorne, was based on a book by R.J. Palacio.

Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay, of "Room" fame) is a bright fifth-grader who sees himself as an ordinary kid. Other children, however, see him as a monster. Auggie has what appears to be Treacher Collins syndrome (though it is never overtly stated in the film), which has resulted in deformities of many of his facial features. Correctly assuming that their son would struggle to assimilate into a conventional school system, Auggie's parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) had decided to have him home-schooled by his mother for several years. Auggie is brilliant for his age but doesn't have any sort of social life outside of his family, so as he gets set for fifth grade, his parents decide to enroll him in a private school in hope that he will be able to develop the social aspect of his life.

It's pretty easy to predict where Auggie's story goes—a few kids are nice to him, a few kids are mean to him, and most kids view him from a distance with apprehension. Over the course of the film, Auggie's kindness and courage evoke in many of his classmates a willingness to accept him.

Auggie's story is juxtaposed by the stories of others whose lives he makes an impact on.

His sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), is in high school and has come to accept that she will always be second fiddle to her little brother, to whom her parents provide more attention due to his condition. Via's best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) is your classic cool high school girl with plenty of family issues hidden beneath her cold demeanor.

Though she seems to have left Via behind on her rise to popularity, she ultimately realizes that lying to herself is not an efficient route to happiness.

The film dives into the lives of other characters, as well, providing some insight into who they are and what has caused them to act the way they do.

In 'Wonder,' children are malleable

The most interesting aspect of "Wonder" is that it displays the concept of children being passive and malleable. Many of the decisions made by these children seem to be a result of the circumstances surrounding them. Auggie's generally kind best friend Jack (Noah Jupe) has a sensitive mother who sympathizes with Auggie's situation as he prepares for his first year of school.

Meanwhile, the class bully, Julian (Bryce Gheisar), unsurprisingly has parents who have no sympathy for Auggie's condition whatsoever. Via's independence is a product of her brother's tendency to garner all of his parents' attention, and Miranda's cool-girl attitude is a mask she uses to hide the sadness that her home life has brought her.

None of these individual stories are terribly original, but as a whole, they do make a point. These children go with the flow based on the cards they're dealt. They don't step back to analyze situations before making decisions, as adults do. Ultimately, they all want to do good in this world, but what "Wonder" seems to say is that it is the responsibility of adults to act as role models and lift up the children, putting them in positions to do the right thing.

As we learn from Auggie, however, sometimes a special child—acting the only way he knows how based on the cards he's been dealt—can be the one who lifts the hearts of his peers beyond where they thought capable.

The verdict: 2.5/4 stars

The problem with this film lies in the fact that every scene seems like an effort to draw a tear. As viewers, we don't like to feel as if our emotions are being manipulated, but "Wonder" unleashes a relentless attack on our heartstrings that often feels forced. Chbosky does manage to produce some poignant, uplifting scenes, but there is a ton of cheesy oversentimentality that takes away from the moments of genuine affection. There won't be many dry eyes in the theater by the end of "Wonder," but the mark of great poignancy is not whether a director can draw tears from viewers—rather, it is whether he or she can create moments that feel genuine and resonate with us after we've left the theater.

"Wonder" has some of those moments, but it also has far too much forgettable melancholy. If Chbosky had focused more on the truly powerful moments and didn't try as hard to fill the gaps in between, this could have been a better film.

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