Director: Stephen Chbosky
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Julia Roberts, Noah Jupe, Bryce Gheisar, Daveed Diggs, Millie Davis, Nadji Jeter
What a nice movie Wonder is.
It’s always a treat to sift through the countless bleak / all-action / grim / CGI / *insert dismal adjective here* movies and find one that is genuinely nice. Stephen Chbosky’s second novel adaptation (following The Perks of Being a Wallflower) delivers an uplifting and heart-warming movie that will leave only the lifeless unmoved.
Crucially, it doesn’t totally drown in its own sentimentality.
Fifth-grader Auggie Pullman (Tremblay) is just like any other boy – he dreams of becoming an astronaut (he initially wears an astronaut’s helmet for the majority of the time), plays computer games and, crucially, loves Star Wars (that’s parenting done right). Auggie also has Treacher Collins syndrome – a rare facial deformity – and due to this, has been sheltered his entire life by his parents Isabel (Roberts) and Nate (Wilson). Having been home-schooled, Isabel and Nate decide it’s time to send Auggie to a private school, but with that comes the fear of the other students – how will they react and will Auggie be able to overcome their stares and comments?
Cold-shouldered by nearly every student, Auggie is befriended by Jack Will (Jupe) however, the friendship is short-lived as a Halloween event ends in heartbreak for young Auggie. Feeling the strain of also being ostracised, Auggie’s older sister, Via (Vidovic), rallies around her brother as the pair attempt to rise above the issues thrown at them and emerge stronger on the other side – though Via has her own issues, silently clamouring for her parent’s attention whilst traversing love and friendships.
Don’t you just hate bullies? I know I do.
Wonder takes a heavy subject and turns it into something hopeful. Once Auggie is exposed to his classmates, it becomes evident immediately that the movie will be a struggle for him and it would have been so very easy to totally submit to mawkishness in an attempt to slash at the viewer's heartstrings (i.e. how the novel does). However, whilst undeniably syrupy and saccharine, the movie is unapologetic about it and the strong elements of the movie overshadow the maudlin moments. If you don’t get infuriated during the school suspension scene late in the movie, then there’s something wrong with you – either that, or you’re the living embodiment of the parents on screen. Sadly, there are plenty of morons like that in the world and their voices are always loudly heard.
The key obstacle that blocks the flow of manipulation is the superstar performance from Jacob Tremblay. Unrecognisable beneath the (very good) makeup and prosthetics, his ability to wring the vulnerability and emotion of each situation is wonderfully (pun) portrayed. Izabela Vidovic is similarly excellent as the struggling sibling, with Roberts and Wilson delivering authentic performances rumbling with depth.
The movie is split into various ‘chapters’ to allow stories to be told from varying viewpoints – Auggie’s, Via’s, Jack’s etc. This technique is a good narrative framing device, though it did cause a few issues with pacing at times as the story flipped between different threads on a whim. What it did well is to allow the story to open up more and give other characters a chance to be explored which only benefits the movie (and the desired effect) as a whole. The majority of the students could be classed as ‘cookie cutter’, there’s plenty of stereotypes and no surprises with the characterisations of the classmates Auggie encounters.
What Chbosky gets just right is the reaction Auggie faces at school. Initially, it is simple stares, inquisitive looks and comments and it’s all handled very well – there’s no pushing or tittering as he walks through the throng. The bullying begins and slowly escalates in a sadly authentic manner without ever feeling too forced or unnatural. At times, the ignominy Auggie feels is only silently portrayed, even when sat in class or navigating the packed corridors and courtyards. The careful handling and approach ensure power and earnestness are delivered at each opportunity.
There are really no surprises with the direction Wonder takes and the conclusion exists simply to make you smile or cry and perhaps provides the movies one major sugary moment. But sometimes a movie can be so heart-warming and well-executed that these moments feel justified and a good old-fashioned inspiring story is just fine by me. Great performances, great messages, great movie.
December 4th 2017