WONDER is a family friendly film with just the correct mix of comedy and drama about a boy with a facial deformity, Auggie ( Jacob Tremblay). The film follows his adjustment to public school, Beecham Preparatory School after being home schooled by his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts). His father, Nate (Owen Wilson) is supportive as well as his sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic) though she resents not being given as much attention by her parents. WONDER is written by Steve Conrad based on the book of the same name by R.J. Palacio.
Despite the obvious message as announced via voiceover at the end of the movie: “Be Kind: You just have to look at people to see…”, there is another more important message found in the movie, as uttered by Via, Auggie’s sister when she angrily quips at her brother: “It’s not always about you.” This message is also echoed in the way the film’s story is brilliantly told – in 4 parts from 3 other points of view besides Auggie’s, showing that other people count. The other views are from Auggie’s sister, Via, and from two of his friends, Jack Will (Noah Jupe) and Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell). The other three are revealed in the script as individuals, just as important as individuals as being a character in Auggie’s world.
The film’s contains one mixed message in the way Auggie finds his first friend, Jack Will – by allowing him to cheat, copying from him, during a test. He could have helped him or offered to help him study instead.
The big minus in WONDER is the filmmakers insistence on going for sentiment. They should be more confident on the material and stop tugging at the heartstrings. So be forewarned! Bring plenty of Kleenex as director Chbosky chooses to milk every opportunity he can for tears. This can be observed by the choice of music; Julia Robert’s perpetual sad look; the script’s dialogue (You cannot blend in if you are meant to stand out in the world); the fondness of close-ups of the actors’ faces.
The script could be trimmed to do away with the teen budding romance between Via and her new theatre boyfriend, Justin that does not do much with the main story.
The performances from the young kids are to be praised. The best of these belong to Noah Jupe as Jack Will, Auggie’s best friend. Jupe is a natural, the camera loving his every facial expression – a possible future star in the making. Two screen veterans Mandy Patinkin and Sonia Braga lend their hands playing Mr. Tushman and Via’s grandmother respectively.
Chbosky’s film tries at making every set-up perfect. It is therefore not surprising that the film’s best moment is a quiet and simple one – a close-up of Jack Will’s face at being happy once again at being Auggie’s friend.
The film ends with Auggie’s mom saying to Auggie: “You are really a WONDER, Auggie”. Perhaps the film itself could have turned out a wonder if everyone did not try so hard.
But for all its flaws, WONDER is a film made about a subject that matters. It is also good to see stars like Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson putting their efforts in a earnest little movie for a change.