Warning: You may want to carry boxes of tissue for this one!
Jacob Tremblay as a 10-year-old with 27 facial surgeries is Wonder-ful in this graceful drama engaged with ethical questions. Born with facial deformity to very attractive parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) Auggie is a budding science whiz and a Star Wars obsessive. The young boy with craniofacial disorder has been home tutored so far and is now set to start middle school which requires him to remove the helmet he has been hiding his face under, barricading himself from the shocked stares. While the movie tells the tale of this little boy’s experiences, it focuses on the people around Auggie who need to evolve. The movie is based on RJ Palacio’s 2012 novel that promotes ‘Choose Kind’ (a tagline for the movie) is also taught in schools as a fair-minded entryway into social interaction.
Writer-director Stephen Chbosky has done away with the clichés inherent in the genre and finds a beating heart that goes beyond the traditional Hollywood sugarcoating. Together with screenwriter Steve Conrad (The Pursuit of Happyness) Chbosky has managed to weave a tear-jerker overflowing with powerful and earnest message on humanism. The flow does have a predictable trajectory, it is nonetheless inspiring and uplifting in its execution. The story not only focuses on the lead character of Auggie, but also splits in to chapters on the side characters that get ignored in the process of care and attention that a child like Auggie needs in a society such as ours. Auggie’s 14-year-old sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic, in a lovely performance), dearly loves her brother and has willingly kept herself away from all the family attention all these years. But the movie reflects on how she can crave for her mother Isabel’s attention at some moments in her life. Or the side story of Via’s friend Miranda (played by Danielle Rose Russell) and an insight in to moving motive behind her ‘Mean Girl’ persona. So the viewers experience the story through multiple point of views and when the focus shifts back to Auggie, we’re more invested in the story as a whole because we understand and care about some of the key players in this pivotal period of his life. What’s remarkable about Wonder is that for two hours, we are not rooting for superheroes or the chiseled guy to get the no-nonsense girl. We’re rooting for strangers to treat a vulnerable child with kindness. The dialogues, especially between children are believable. So instead of a preachy tearjerker, what Chbosky does is construct a portrait of children figuring out who they want to be, and adults coming to grips with what they can and can’t control.
A first-rate cast adds to the director’s efforts. Room star Jacob Tremblay proves once again he is one of his generation’s finest child actors, efficiently blending drama and comedy that makes his Auggie instantly likeable and sympathetic. The child star is deeply relatable allowing audiences to see past his deformities and acknowledge the more pressing issues of class, prejudice, and kindness.
Julia Roberts, who whips out the most infectious laugh in the movies at an opportune time, does fine work as Auggie’s mom who has pretty much set her life on hold from the moment Auggie was born. She lowers the glam and ups the grit as the mother of a 10-year-old science geek who is about to face middle school with his scarred face. She holds the perfect smile that speaks of nervousness and happiness all together for a parent sending her child to the school for the first time.
Owen Wilson gives the most endearing performances as Auggie’s dad. Sporting a surfers’ haircut he’s perfectly believable as a hipster dad who often plays the good cop to mom’s bad cop.
Young actors Izabela Vidovic as Auggie’s sister Via, Nadji Jeter as a potential love interest for Via and Millie Davis as a girl named Summer who tires of her classmates making fun of Auggie, are terrific.
Ultimately, Wonder makes the most of its assets and ends up being a solid family film that might be better than what some initially expected. Don’t mistake this movie for a self-righteous flick. Shot simply without fuss and with a piano-heavy score by Marcelo Zarvos that is meant to signal Auggie’s beautiful little soul, Wonder is an emotional wipeout that has been handled with much tenderness and delicacy.