Wonder movie review: A feel-good story about family, and coming to terms with being different
Director: Stephen Chbosky
If you’re in the mood for good natured schmaltz with a generous helping of effectively manipulative drama and a sprinkle of laughs, Wonder is the film to watch this week. It’s not great cinema but it surely a feel good corrective procedure for the recent onslaught of dark and depressing blockbusters we’ve seen lately.
The film is co-written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, who earlier made the runaway hit The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Much like that film, Wonder is a story about a good-natured kid with a social problem — this time we have Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) a 10-year-old who suffers from a facial deformity. Auggie has been home schooled all his life but has to now make the difficult transition to a public school where he is predictably jeered at by other kids for his face. A silver lining comes in the form of a new friend called Jack (Noah Jupe) who seems to not care about Auggie looking ‘different’. The film then follows the highs and lows of the friendship between the two, as Auggie learns to live with being different from those around him.
It’s quite the setup for an exercise in sentimentality and the film absolutely does not hold back on tugging your heartstrings every step of the way. The writers Jack Thorne and Steve Conrad, however, mix things up by giving the narrative different perspectives through the eyes of the other characters in the film, forming a complete whole rather than a linear tale of a sad little boy. It allows the other actors — Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts who play the parents, and Izabella Vidovic who plays Auggie’s sister — to render an emotional punch at the forefront rather than as a backdrop to Auggie’s story. The multi-prong approach allows us to understand everyone in the film, even the supposedly evil ones because we get a perspective of why they behave the way they do. It’s also an important storytelling choice given the filmmaker wants to drive home the message of courage in the face of terror and the need for recognition for the way we are.
Even though it starts off as a troubled child fable, Wonder deepens into a story about how a family deals with situations like these and how a community generally paints people in black or white. We’ve seen plenty of films like this one in the past, but few of them render emotion with the restraint that this film does. One usually expects the emotionally potent scenes padded with noise but this is a surprisingly quiet movie, a style which director Chbosky carries forward from Perks. You don’t need extra frills when you have an actor like Tremblay effortlessly delivering another tremendous performance — who makes you empathise with him without being overtly sweet. After Room and now Wonder, he’s pretty much en route to becoming a superstar.