FILM REVIEW: Wonder
DIRECTOR: Stephen Chbosky
SYNOPSIS: Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman, a boy with facial differences who enters fifth grade, attending a mainstream elementary school for the first time.
Review by Melissa Lee.
At first glance, Wonder seems like your typical cheesy family fare. A ten-year-old boy with a severe facial deformity has a loving family that just wants the world to love him too — the premise alone is practically an entreaty for acceptance. Like Little Miss Sunshine, but a lot more on the nose, thanks to the obvious physical abnormality that August Pullman (a.k.a. Auggie) suffers from.
But the film is a great example of what cheesy family fare can achieve if it commits, heart and soul, to the feel-good message of its core.
While it uses a somewhat over-told moral of ‘beauty is more than skin-deep’, writer-director Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), succeeds in enriching and elevating the film to a more complex and engaging level. By delving into different characters’ points of view, the movie manages to avoid pity-party territory by a generous margin. Instead, it resonates with nearly every possible type of viewer — the older sister searching for her own identity, the overwrought mother struggling to regain hers, the friend who’s learning to stand up for the difference between right and wrong.
By giving us a good, long look into other characters’ heads, the writers took the straightforward story of a disfigured child searching for love and acceptance, and turned it into a multilayered tale of a group of individuals, all with different stories and perspectives, all just trying to do the same thing: to live life as best as they can.
As Auggie’s parents, both Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson show up in fine form, balancing grievous worry and a genuine optimism and hope for Auggie with a lovely, subtle nuance. Daveed Diggs and Mandy Patinkin put in solid appearances as Auggie’s teacher and principal respectively, imbuing the steadfast competence and concern that every child deserves from their educators.
But what really nails the movie are the younger actors — Critics’ Choice Movie Award winner Jacob Tremblay as Auggie, and Noah Jupe as Jack Will, Auggie’s first friend. Tremblay plays every inch of Auggie’s social ineptitude and burgeoning frustrations with a sensitivity beyond his eleven years, inspiring nothing but sympathy and empathy even when Auggie withdraws into himself or throws outright tantrums. Jupe (who gave a standout performance in this year’s Suburbicon) delivers yet another solid showing as the conflicted Jack Will, torn between his desire to be accepted with the popular crowd and a genuine liking for Auggie’s company. The two actors’ chemistry is strong and wholeheartedly believable, and they portray all the highs and lows of Auggie and Jack Will’s friendship with marvellous sincerity.
The most quietly impressive performance of the film belongs to sixteen-year-old Izabela Vidovic. As Auggie’s older sister, Via, Vidovic turns in a subtle, layered portrayal of a young woman learning to give herself the love and attention she’s always given her younger brother; to push herself out of her comfort zone and grow into her own person. Via’s storyline manages to shine without detracting from Auggie’s, and commendation once again goes to the writers for the lovely balance achieved between the two siblings, and the care with which their relationship is treated.
The film suffers through some noticeable third act pains, but it pulls through in the end by remaining earnest and sincere to its core. What works best about the movie is that it doesn’t try too hard to be deep or clever. It sticks to its central message — ‘be kind’ — and serves it up to the audience with no fuss or fanfare, trusting in the merit of the good sentiment to land.
All in all, Wonder takes the oft-overused descriptor ‘heartwarming’ and adopts it as an essence, pure and undiluted. It makes for an affecting and uplifting cinematic experience, one that audiences everywhere will wholeheartedly enjoy and appreciate.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Melissa Lee is a communication graduate with an enduring interest in film and TV and a deeper, more concerning interest for the Wikipedia and IMDB Trivia pages that accompany them. Her spare time is usually spent in a movie theatre or in front of a TV/computer with Netflix going at full speed. She also likes to think she’s an avid reader, but, alas, moving pictures on a bright screen are far more engaging for those individuals blessed with the attention span of a five-year-old, such as herself.