SHOULD I SEE IT?
Fans of the best-selling children's book are eagerly anticipating this movie.
Stephen Chbosky simply doesn't work enough. His follow-up to the brilliant The Perks of Being a Wallflower is an emotional, endearing, and rewarding family film.
A terrific cast carries this movie across the finish line, with Julia Roberts terrific and Jacob Tremblay leading a talented group of young actors.
Since it is a family film, with some moments that attempt to tug at the heartstrings, the film may strike some people as disingenuous and manipulative.
May come off as too sweet and too kind, skirting over some very serious dramatic storylines that deserve deeper exploration.
Some will dismiss this as little more than just a kid's movie. You can do that, but you're missing something pretty special.
Somewhere along the way, Stephen Chbosky’s Wonder turns from really good to pretty great, and it is hard to nail down just where that moment occurs. Could it be when, after a shaky beginning, Jacob Tremblay settles wonderfully into the role of Auggie, the facially different son of parents Isabel (Julia Roberts) and Nate Pullman (Owen Wilson)?
Perhaps it’s the way with which Roberts and Wilson quietly take control of the movie and calmly, but assuredly, guide their often younger co-stars to effective and meaningful places in their scenes together?
Maybe Chbosky just understands teenage dynamics better than most, as he was the writer and director of one of the decade’s best films, 2012’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Based off of one of the most beloved children’s books of the decade, Wonder tells the story of 10-year-old fifth grader August, “Auggie,” embarking on a new beginning in a nearby private school. Homeschooled by his mother all his life, Auggie is incredibly smart, especially with science and mathematics, but suffers from a severe birth defect and facial deformity known as Treacher Collins Syndrome. In his 10 short years, he has had nearly 30 different surgeries to look the way he looks.
Principal Tushman (Mandy Patinkin) tries to get in front of any marginalizing and bullying from his students, by arranging for three students to meet Auggie and tour him around the school, prior to the first day. One student, aspiring actress Charlotte (Elle McKinnon), talks about herself exclusively. A boy, Jack Will (Noah Jupe), is kind and attempts a friendship, but initially allows the bullying Julian (Bryce Gheisar) to bulldoze over everything and everyone, mocking and ridiculing his school's newest student.
Elsewhere, Auggie’s older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), is returning to high school following the end of a summer which saw her experience the unexpected loss of best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). Miranda simply refuses to talk to Via, and she reluctantly turns to the Drama Club and upcoming auditions for the school play, meeting Justin (Nadji Jeter). Soon, something of a crush develops.
There is a lot to navigate here, in terms of plots and subplots and somehow, Chbosky lets nearly all of these storylines have their moment, each character having the chance to have agency and create a wholly distinctive component to the larger story of how Auggie sees the world.
The source material, the best-selling book by RJ Palacio, and adapted here by Chbosky, Steven Conrad, and Jack Thorne, pushes a lot of things at the reader, some of which has understandably been left behind or condensed.
And yet, even when the film rushes or skips over some serious subplots, Chbosky lands a lot of emotional impact as Auggie begins to realize that he no longer needs to hide his facial differences behind an astronaut’s helmet. He begins to make friends and his overall demeanor changes from a child who likes assessing people by the shoes they wear, to hanging out with friends, including a sweet-tempered classmate named Summer (Millie Davis).
Roberts is wonderful as a mom here, wrestling with the anxieties of not being able to have complete control over everything involving her son any longer. Wilson is also great. delivering the goods in a couple of key emotional scenes, and, fresh off a stint on television’s “The Fosters”, the performance by Vidovic is strong, confident, and impressive.
Under the watchful eye of Chbosky, moments matter here. As one watches how all of this will play out, and similar to Palacio’s book, Chbosky presents Wonder as a story told from a handful of different character perspectives. A nice touch, it propels the movie forward and Wonder retains a laser-sharp focus, comfortable in bucking conventions a bit to allow character voice to be a crucial key in driving the story forward.
All in all, when you have a wife who tears up even at the mere mention of the book, be warned that Wonder is going to seriously pull for your heartstrings. Capturing such a terrific ensemble cast of youth and veteran actors, Wonder admittedly has some imperfections. For example, two of the more intriguing characters in the film, English teacher Mr. Browne (Daveen Diggs), and Via’s best friend, Miranda, are left with little to do, outside of a few scenes where we feel as if we are just filling time.
Wonder wants you on the journey. The film works really hard to embed you into the moments these characters are experiencing, and with Roberts and Wilson anchoring the film, the young actors get ample opportunity to make the most of it.
In a world dominated by salacious headlines and bitter, caustic noise passing off as news and debate, it is simply divine to have a movie like Wonder come along and work its magic. By the end, you may stand up and applaud, or be wiping away some tears, but the film reminds us of a simple, yet engaging message we desperately need right now.
Love, accept, embrace those close to you. First impressions can often be wrong. Cast a wide net when it comes to meeting people and always be ready to be someone's friend or advocate. Our bodies may look different on the outside, but, quite honestly, we are all largely alike on the inside.
With all the joy, the smiles, and the touching moments Wonder nails so well, if families can walk out of the theater thinking a couple of the ideas mentioned above, Wonder could very well be precisely the right kind of movie we need right now.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, Izabela Vidovic, Danielle Rose Russell, Noah Jupe, Elle McKinnon, Bryce Gheisar, Millie Davis, Daveed Diggs, Ali Liebert, Mandy Patinkin, Crystal Lowe, Sonia Braga, Ty Consiglio.
Director: Stephen Chbosky
Written by: Steve Conrad, Jack Thorne, Stephen Chbosky
Adapted from the novel "Wonder" by RJ Palacio
Release Date: November 17, 2017