In a world filled with hostility and starkness, it’s important that people advocate warmth and kindness as we do our best to remain optimistic. Wonder does its best to instill this sense of positivity and empathy into the viewer because “when given a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”… Oh yeah, it’s going to make you cry too.
Synopsis: Based on the New York Times bestseller, WONDER tells the incredibly inspiring and heartwarming story of August Pullman. Born with facial differences that, up until now, have prevented him from going to a mainstream school, Auggie becomes the most unlikely of heroes when he enters the local fifth grade. As his family, 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. (eOne Films)
Starring: Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson, and Jacob Tremblay
Writers: Stephen Chobsky, Steve Conrad, and Jack Thorne
Director: Stephen Chobsky
Rating: PG (Canada/United States)
Running Time: 113mins
For showtimes and more, check out Wonder on movietimes.com.
Tremblay disappears into the role of Auggie, and proves that he is one of the highest caliber child actors working today. Chbosky chooses to establish Auggie as a regular boy who enjoys playing Minecraft, loves Star Wars (the kid has a Padawan braid), and wants to be an Astronaut when he grows up. The only difference between Auggie and the other boys is his facial features. The audience has an understanding of Auggie’s normal child hobbies from the start and this allows us to get a sense that he just wants to be a normal kid. Overhead shots of Auggie fill the first half of the film, as Chbosky visually depicts his isolation from the other kids in creative ways (whimsical “what-ifs” being the highlights) like Chewbacca showing up on the first day of school, or the clever metaphor of the astronaut taking his first steps in the uncharted school. The story of Auggie may be the main draw of Wonder, but how Auggie affects the people around him is what is at its core.
The biggest praise that can be given to this movie is the narrative risks it takes to tell its story. Schmaltzy manipulation is traded in favor of a realistic, empathetic look at all the characters. The film chooses to give each major child character their own point-of-view telling of events, and this develops our insight and empathy towards them. Auggie is not the main focus for a lot of the movie, his older sister Via (played wonderfully by the understated Izabela Vidovic), has much to say about her role in the family; primarily being the unconscious neglectfulness her parents display towards her that comes with having a son like Auggie. “The planets revolve around the sun-not the daughter” is a quote that sums up her feelings perfectly.
However; it’s not only Via who receives a well-developed arc, other characters who normally would have been mere supporting players get their chance in the spotlight which is a testament to the original narrative that isn’t held down by clichés. Roberts and Wilson are both great as the parents, Isabel and Nate, but they aren’t given a lot to do. Nate is the more realistic of the two whereas Isabel is the more skeptical but hopeful one. Their parental contrasts gives the family much needed dynamism, and the relationship between Isabel and Via is one of the film’s highlights. It just would’ve been better if the parents were more integral to the story. Isabel is given a sub-plot surrounding her college thesis that doesn’t go anywhere, while Nate really has no arc to speak of, he just coasts on his loveable charm. Wonder does a great job of portraying empathy over manipulation, but it treads a fine line.
As mentioned, the empathy that strikes the viewer is real and feels earned…for the majority of the movie. The last twenty minutes is where it may lose some viewers where it goes into maximum overdrive empathy. By giving a big chunk of screen time to Auggie’s sister and other supporting characters, we kind of start playing catch-up on the end with Auggie. If they gave us enough with Auggie and his struggles throughout the movie, we didn’t need that extra push at the end. It seemed over-done and started to tread into the manipulative territory.
Overall, Wonder was a delightful film. It doesn’t succumb to the schmaltz and the narrative traps that seem to plague tear-jerkers like this (until the end) and is sure to leave a poignant impression on the audience (especially those with young children). The acting is great across the board, and the central theme of being kind over being right is an especially optimistic one compared to the world that we inhabit today.
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