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What the Doctor Ordered

Wonder's dose of sugar, Mudbound's bitter pill

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WONDER. In word and more frequently in deed, I may or may not have conveyed/made a lifestyle of an aversion to things wholesome. But living as we now do in a time defined by venality and exclusionary thinking, when we are "governed" by lecherous reptilian billionaires with no apparent regard for the well-being of others, a little wholesomeness in art and in life goes a long way. Provided, of course, that such nourishing stuff is administered in such a way as to side-step cliché, saccharine faux-philosophy and the like. While Wonder likely will not be held up as a cinematic achievement of much stature, it delivers a neat little shot of empathy, compassion and kindness without venturing too far off the path.

Nate (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Julia Roberts) Pullman, an affluent New York couple who live in a beautiful brownstone, have a charming teenage daughter named Via (Izabel Vidovic). This is short for Olivia, in a demonstration of the too-clever character-naming tendency so prevalent in YA literature (the movie was adapted from R.J. Palacio's novel by Jack Thorne, Steven Conrad and director Stephen Chbosky, of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 2012), but it's an errant note of preciousness within a generally honest and sincerely rendered story, so it can be afforded a pass. The Pullmans also have a 10-year-old son named Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), who was born with severe facial deformities. Having undergone dozens of reparative and cosmetic surgeries, he can breathe and see and talk and eat quite well, but he looks different. Isabel sidelined her master's degree studies to care for and home-school Auggie, but after 10 years decides the time is right for him to go to "real school." He's justifiably resistant and the war of attrition that is childhood/adolescence/life soon makes him a casualty. He is bullied, shamed, avoided, diminished and marginalized. Still, he keeps at it, excelling academically and meeting his attackers with potentially toxic internalization. Meanwhile, Via navigates the troubled waters of high school and puberty, returning from summer vacation to find her best friend will no longer speak to her and mourning the loss of her grandmother and confidante.

As the narrative unfolds, it reinforces the notion that we can never know the depth or breadth of another person's suffering. It gives life to the feeling of being other and of being alone in that, but also to the sublime moment of finding another, a friend with whom we can fuse our loneliness, thereby destroying some of it. And it celebrates togetherness, the gradual transcendence of xenophobia and separation through open-heartedness and communication.

The audience with which I saw Wonder applauded when it ended. I like to think it was more for the idea that we can come together in kindness than it was for the movie. PG. 113m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

MUDBOUND. It can be unpleasant because it is an unpleasant subject, but apparently we need frequent, jolting reminders of history to make progress. The history in question being a multi-century, institutionalized and systematic enslavement and disenfranchisement, and a legacy of violence toward an entire people of the United States. It's a history we would hope to put behind but which art like Mudbound will remind us is an active and an ulcerating element of our culture today.

In rural Mississippi, two native sons return home from service in Europe in World War II. Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) is white and received decorations for his time as a bomber pilot. His brother Henry (Jason Clarke) has recently purchased a farm and settled there with his wife Laura (Carey Milligan), two young daughters and repugnant racist father Pappy (Jonathan Banks).

Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell) commanded a tank as a sergeant, was greeted by the people of Europe as a liberator and an equal and fell in love. His tenant-farmer parents Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige) work a section of the McAllan farm, saving up and warily letting in the possibility of owning their own farm. They are hopeful, forward looking and generous; still, they struggle to understand Ronsel's difficulty both in coming back from combat and in coming back from a place where daily degradation does not have to be accepted as normal.

As the dense, muddy days drag along, the relationship between Laura and Henry decays and weakens, while Jamie reaches out to Ronsel. The latter two become clandestine drinking buddies, embracing the ability to commiserate and meet on common ground. But it's Mississippi and it's 1945 and things must take an awful turn.

Director Dee Rees (Pariah, 2011) and Virgil Williams co-wrote the screenplay, which is adapted from a novel by Hillary Jordan. Rees shows a steady hand and an unflinching eye for both the emotional and physical details of the movie's time and place. Her pacing, controlled and almost-literary (in the early going, the presence of multiple narrators threatens to distract) contributes to the infinite-afternoon, deep South look and tone of the movie.

The cast give standout performances all around; Jason Mitchell has been singled out here and there (and deservedly), but Morgan and Blige are, to me, the living heart of the piece, as people striving to make a world for their children that would have been all but unimaginable for themselves, much less for their parents. R. 134m. Streaming on Netflix.

— John J. Bennett

Due to this week's holiday, updated listings for Broadway, Fortuna and Mill Creek were not available at press time. For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

THE FLORIDA PROJECT. Following the misadventures of a 6-year-old girl (Brooklynn Prince) who lives in a motel just outside the Magic Kingdom. With Willem DaFoe and Bria Vinaite. R. 111m. MINOR.

HOME ALONE (1990). McCaulay Culkin as a forgotten 8-year-old with a sadistic streak and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the burglars who suffer his Rube Goldberg traps. PG. 108m. BROADWAY.

Continuing

A BAD MOMS CHRISTMAS. The writing in this sequel wastes the comedic charms of leads Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn, who play frustrated moms visited by their respective mothers (the equally squandered Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon). R. 104m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

COCO. Young musician Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) goes on a quest to the Land of the Dead to circumvent his family's generations-old ban on music in this Pixar animated feature. With Gael García Bernal. PG. 109m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

DADDY'S HOME 2. Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg reprise their roles as "co-dads," this time struggling with their own polar opposite dads (racist boil Mel Gibson and John Lithgow) with mildly humorous and pointedly heartwarming results. A benign and forgettable signal that Ferrell isn't trying anymore. PG13. 98m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

DOLORES. Documentary about Dolores Huerta, activist and union organizer alongside Cesar Chavez, and her struggles with police violence, and raising 11 kids. Damn. NR. 95m. MINIPLEX.

JUSTICE LEAGUE. Batman (Ben Affleck) teams up with Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Cyborg (Ray Fisher), Flash (Ezra Miller) and a butched-up Aquaman (Jason Momoa) to save the world. PG13. 121m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

LUCKY. The legendary Harry Dean Stanton (RIP) stars as a 91-year-old man having an existential crisis in a small, dusty town with a missing tortoise. NR. 88m. MINIPLEX.

MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. Director Kenneth Branagh dons a massive mustache as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot alongside a stellar cast of suspects (Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Daisy Ridley and Michelle Pfeiffer). Rich sets and slower pacing embraces old-fashioned movie making for a beautiful, compelling mystery. PG13. 114m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

THOR: RAGNAROK. Director Taika Waititi keeps Marvel's high drama but balances it with humor and and a nimble, entertaining story. Cate Blanchett and Jeff Goldblum excel as very different villains. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson and Tom Hiddleston. PG13. 130m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE STAR. This animated feature follows a donkey (Steve Yeun) and the rest of the manger crew on the road to the first Christmas. With Kristen Chenoweth, Keegan-Michael Key and Gina Rodriguez. PG. 86m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK. •

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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