Wonder and the 8 Other Great Child Performances of 2017


.

With me counting Wonder amongst the films to feature the best performances from children this year you’d probably guess that I am again going to sing the praises of Jacob Tremblay, the very young actor who was astonishing in Room. In this new film Tremblay takes the lead as Auggie, a ten year old boy with Mandibulofacial dysostosis, who is going to school for the first time. This is not entirely what the movie is about though and you’d be guessing wrong if you thought Tremblay was the stand out actor. Wonder is concerned almost as much with those around Auggie and as such examines parenthood and adolescence alongside difference and disability. This makes it a widely relatable story even though it centres around the particular circumstances of one family’s situation. The story that moved me most is was actually that of Via, Auggie’s older sister, played by 16 year old Izabela Vidovic. Despite growing up in an unrealistically Hollywood house with unrealistically Hollywood parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson no less) and despite her sibling’s realistic needs, Via is dealing with her own social problems and Vidovic makes it all feel very genuine. There were a number of parts in the film that made me well up but it was a moment with Via that actually brought a tear. It was not one of the times she demonstrates her strength and love for her brother either, it was a moment all about her. Izabela Vidovic is in the background on the poster but she is a big part of the movie. Wonder skirts very close to being mawkish but it is Via that keeps it on the right side of the line.

.

The Beguiled, Sophia Coppola’s story of a 1860s Virginia girl’s school disrupted by the arrival of a wounded Union soldier is full of strong female performances, several of them from actors under 16. The most memorable and possibly the most disturbing comes from a preteen Addison Riecke. She doesn’t get as big a part to play as some of the others but it is her unquestioning agreement with the extreme plan the women hatch to get rid of their overbearing guest that that sticks with you. Riecke plays innocence, she plays fear and at the end she plays cold vengeance.

.

It is another film with a great young ensemble as a group of kids battle Stephen King’s famous clown demon and the star of the gang is Sophia Lillis’ Beverly. The only girl in the group she has more to face up to than any of the others fearing not only the monster that is preying on them but also her own approaching adolescence and the effect this will have on her abusive father. Hers is the darkest narrative but Lillis fills it with spirit.

.

The Florida Project features not just one of the best performances from a child this year but one of the best performances from a child ever and this has to be as much down to director Sean Baker as it does 7 year old Brooklyn Prince. It has been said that to small kids acting is just playing and that works well here as for most of the screen time protagonist Moonee is just playing. It feels anything but totally authentic though. It is at the end, when the games are over, that her acting skills really come to full effect and here she will break your heart.

.

It is odd to think that anyone else was ever going to play Wolverine in the X-Men films but Hugh Jackman was an unknown actor back in 2000 and the part originally went to Dougray Scott. Jackman has totally made it his own though and it inconceivable that anyone else could do the job. It is fortunate that the characters powers mean they didn’t need to recast him for the prequels because those are some hard shoes to fill. Who else could demonstrate that mix of fury and compassion? Then, this year, along came Logan with an answer to the question that no one would have anticipated; give the role to an 11 year old Spanish girl. Dafne Keen is great as Logan’s clone/daughter, all innocence, curiosity, pain and explosive rage. The mantle has been effectively passed. 

.

A lot of actors find it hard acting opposite CGI characters, especially when that character is not a humanoid that someone can effectively stand in for. In Okja Seo-Hyan Ahn has to play off a giant hippo pig that wasn’t really there and that play is totally believable. Even more impressively, her love for the creature feels equally real. 

.

Moonlight tells the simple but powerful story of a young man growing up and discovering who he is. It sounds trite when you described it like that but there is nothing cliched in the film. The protagonist is played by three different actors at different ages and while the stand out performance may come from Ashton Sanders who portrays him as a teen, the whole story is built on the great work done by 12 year old Alex R. Hibbert at the start. 

.

A Monster Calls grabs your heartstrings in the first few minutes and does not stop tugging until the closing credits. Telling the story of schoolboy Conor, dealing with the illness and likely death of his mother under the ambiguous guidance of a giant talking tree beast, it was always going to be emotional but it was never going to work if there wasn’t believablity alongside the fantasy. All of the key performances are really strong with Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver excellent as the mother and daughter. It is the son’s sorry though and Lewis McDougall matches them both.

.

I really liked the first of the new Planet of the Apes films but was disappointed by the second. War for the Planet of the Apes received mixed reviews with some loving it and others finding it overly slow so I really wasn’t sure what I was going to make of it. I wasn’t hopeful; my problem with its predecessor was the excessive battles and this one actually had ‘war’ in the title. As it turns out though I enjoyed it very much. The pacing is gentle but this just gives time for the relationships to develop, one of which is between the main simians and Nova, a young girl that they rescue. There is a largely wordless scene between Nova, played by Amiah Miller, and Andy Serkis’ captive Caesar that is among my favourite cinematic moments of the year. It is full of humanity even though neither of the participants are quite human.

.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s