‘Wonder’ tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), a warm-hearted little boy born with facial differences that have kept him in and out of hospitals his whole life. Up until now, his appearance has prevented him from going to a mainstream school, so Auggie becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade. As his family (Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson), his new classmates, and the larger community all struggle to discover their compassion and acceptance, Auggie’s extraordinary journey will unite them all and prove you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out, proving that the things that make us different also make us special. ‘Wonder’ is directed by Stephen Chbosky, and is rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, and some mild adult language.
If a theater auditorium full of crying people doesn’t restore my faith in mankind, nothing probably will. The tears are ones of joy more often than not in ‘Wonder’, channeling an inspiring tear-jerker that moved me miles in ways that it tugged at the heartstrings with a resounding message of clarity. To be different is not to be unequal, but rather extraordinary, and we should welcome those extraordinary people with forthright actions that will define us. The film more than lives up to its ambitious name by implementing the softer side to cinema that usually more times than not leaves me rolling my eyes. The meandering side to dramas involving characters that are deemed as ‘Different’ comes across in the thinnest of representations, leading to films like ‘Simon Birch’ or ‘Radio’ that often play to the predictability of each respective story. ‘Wonder’ is above all of that, mainly because it tells an honest story first-and-foremost, depicting the very actions and consequences of children with such accuracy that makes them entertaining, but above all else human. This was a very entertaining sit to me, and most of the credit goes to the same filmmaking genius who helmed ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’, perhaps the most poignant teenage film of the last twenty years.
That magician is Stephen Chbosky, and if one thing is clear about the circles that he runs around in endless direction, it’s that he understands youths and their unfolding situations accordingly. In weaker hands, this film could easily fall by the wayside corny while reaching for the right degree of sentimentality, but Stephen, as well as his all around perfectly cast ensemble, harbor such surrealism that comes with living with something as challenging as physical appearance and the kind of psychological harm that it can cause to that innocent youth. As a filmmaker, Chbosky infuses a lot of warm color that represents the rich, vibrancy of this movie that removes any doubt of this feeling like a bigger budgeted Lifetime movie of the week. On top of this, the cinematography is gorgeous, harboring a finer appreciation of versatility in shots far and near that play to the drama in each scene without needing the slow close-up that forces us to pay attention to a heavy handed message. Stephen lets his audience come to him, and because of such the wondrous influence that he commands over this movie is one that always feels firmly in his grip without reaching for the sure things when it comes to what will resonate with his audience.
What I came to appreciate about this story is that it isn’t just told from Auggie’s point of view, but rather a healthy offering of characters who each play great value into the peeling of this small boy. For the first half of the film, the narration is done by four different characters of Auggie, his Sister Via, his best friend Jack, and Via’s former best friend Miranda. Not all of them hit as strongly emotionally as others do, and some even come and go without much reasoning for their delve into that particular character. But what I found so enticing about this direction is that the storytelling shows its depth by proving that there’s so much more that meets the eye with this boy and his situation that touches a lot of people for better or worse. To me, his sister’s side of things is one that I valued most, depicting a side of temporary abandonment that doesn’t always get a thorough representation in films like this one. Nothing ever feels rushed or even sloppy by its expanding levels, using the most of 108 precious minutes of screen time that constantly held my attention because there’s something new around every corner.
The few problems that the film’s screenplay by Chbosky does have are few and far between, but there were some things that bothered me. For one, the film’s multiple narration does sometimes stray too far from Auggie before much resolution with his character has taken place. It does make up for it during the later part of the third act with some more time devoted to him, but unfortunately what transpires during a field trip does feel terribly tacked on to the story to offer some last minute drama that the film doesn’t feel confident in what few edge-of-the-seat moments it gave us. The overall final twenty minutes of the film is definitely the weakness of the movie, but it isn’t enough to ever take it down more than a grade for its lack of involvement to the star character. I’ll get to the performances in a second, but the one thing that makes Tremblay just miss from possible Academy recognition during awards season is that the film is noticeably missing that one long-winded moment of dialogue from him to bring it all together, and that reminder to the townspeople of the journey that this strong force has taken.
As for performances, there is nothing lacking in this department. The duo of Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson worked spectacularly, emoting two cool parents who know how to relate to their children, but also know when to turn on the discipline of a stern approach. Jacob Tremblay is a wonder of acting science with his role of Auggie. In him, Tremblay finally capitalizes on his dramatic circumference that was evident in 2015’s ‘Room’, playing him with enough sadness and spunk to appropriately balance them capably without feeling like a drag. My favorite performance of the film however, was from sixteen-year-old Izabela Vidovic who opened my eyes to such a presence in the same vein that she does to the townspeople at a school play in the film. Via feels just as cursed by Auggie predicament, and because of such we get a tender performance by Vidovic that reminds us of the very complexities of finding an identity as a teenager without coming right out and spoon-feeding it down our throats. The scenes with Vidovic and Roberts are definitely my favorite of the film because you feel such invisible angst and depravation being explored in ways that feel every bit as deserving of exploration as they do becoming of each respective character’s direction for the remainder of the film. Subtle visual storytelling at its finest.
THE VERDICT – ‘Wonder’ doesn’t require familiar paths on its journey to compelling drama, it blazes a trail of its own by an informatively versatile approach the pushes this to the front of the line of tear-jerking favorites. Chbosky once again puts the lump in all of our throats with such compassion and vulnerability in the unapologetic circumstance of childish audacity, and this more than capable ensemble cast turn the gears of tears accordingly for nearly two hours. A name means everything to a film, and because of such, the double duty of Chbosky put the ‘Wonder’ in wonderful.