By Jack Dignan
The message of Wonder is loud and clear; please, for the love of god, don’t be a dick. It’s a simple, kindhearted message that can never be told enough times. Just be kind. It’s real easy. Everyone is different, and we each have untold backstories not everybody knows about, full of our own personal problems that we don’t always share. Wonder is here to make that clear, and in these dark and somber times we currently live in, it’s a refreshingly sweet tale that will no-doubt warm your heart.
Director and co-writer Stephen Chbosky’s previous directorial effort, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, of which he adapted his own book, has slowly become one of the definite modern day teen movies. It was a critical success upon initial release. Ever since then, it seems to have become a rite of passage as adolescents progress into their teenage years. “Have you seen Perks of Being a Wallflower yet?” they ask. It’s fair. The film is great. I recently watched it with my younger sister, who hadn’t seen it before (henceforth passing through the rite of passage), and it still made me cry.
Chbosky is great at real human emotion. Despite a limited filmography, he’s managed to capture the essence of what it means to be human every single time, even, to some degree, in this year’s live action Beauty and the Beast. Wonder perfectly encapsulates that too. Based on the book by R.J. Palacio, we follow the story of Auggie (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy with facial deformities who, for all his life, has been homeschooled by his mum Isabel (Julia Roberts) and dad Nate (Owen Wilson). Now, Auggie is about to enter the fifth great, and this year, he’s going to a real school. Wonder is a story of compassion, acceptance, being different and not being a total asshole.
It’s no surprise to say that this film is emotional. You may not necessarily cry, I’m a frequent movie crier yet I found the whole thing all to predictable to burst into tears, but the emotion is strong and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get watery eyed at least five times. The film feels almost as if it were made purely to get you crying, so in that regard there’s certain sequences in the third act that do feel manipulative. One moment in particular involving a character in need of help feels totally irrelevant and solely to up the overall emotion present throughout, despite the film certainly not needing to.
Still, being emotional isn’t always a bad thing, and it’s nearly impossible not to fall in love with this movie. By the end of it, you’ll just want to reach into the screen and give Auggie a hug. The film is a heartfelt and endearing ode to all of those who are different, embracing it and warming every muscle in your body. You’ll be happy, sad, proud, scared and heartbroken all within a two-hour period. Jacob Tremblay is brilliant as the shy, wholesome Auggie. He’s successful is following up his excellent performance in Room with something even more powerful and fulfilling, despite this film just falling shy of Room’s greatness.
Chbosky’s direction is fine, the cinematography is kind of bland, but it’s the script and the performances that stand out, taking a somewhat different but very welcomed turn in comparison to what was expected when it comes to this movie. Its narrative takes turns in going through and exploring the lives of different characters, all while relating it back to Auggie’s story. It’s never cheap, nor a cop out. They do it to show the effect Auggie has on those around him, creating a unique and eye-opening narrative where even the antagonists are given humanity at some point.
It would’ve been interesting to see Bryce Gheisar’s bully character Julian explored a little bit more, as he’s about the only central character we don’t get to know all that well, and what is there hints at further complexions we never get to learn. Granted, spending another fifteen minutes within this narrative would easily have made the already extended runtime feel even slower (there’s simply not enough plot to maintain the runtime), so the choice to redact his arc is understandable. We get enough to get hints at the bigger picture, and it consequently allows more moving, family bonding time with the stellar cast of Auggie’s family. There’s no weak link to be found in any of the performances.
You’d have to try real hard not to like this movie. It’s a supremely moving and hilarious tale of a young boy just looking to fit in, forced to accept the fact that he was born to stand out. Every cast member works well, and heck, they even made an entire sequence set in the world of Minecraft interesting. Plus, y’know, it always helps when a movie has a Star Wars reference every ten minutes, making Wonder truly wonderful.
3 1/2 Stars
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