Wonder Review

By Rich Cline

 

This film may be based on RJ Palacio’s fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story and characters in a way that feels bracingly true to life. It’s also a rare movie that’s infused with strong emotions right from the start, but never dips into any kind of sentimentality. Indeed, director-cowriter Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) holds his nerve as he takes the audience into some remarkably moving situations. And most importantly, it’s the kind of film that encourages us to make the world a kinder place.

Wonder Movie Still

At the centre of the story is 10-year-old Auggie (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), who has been homeschooled by his mother (Julia Roberts) and is now entering a mainstream school. Everyone in the family is nervous about this, including his dad (Owen Wilson) and big sister Via (Izabela Vidovic), because Auggie has a facial deformity that makes him a target for small-minded bullies. But his headmaster (Mandy Patinkin) is determined to help smooth the way, introducing him to the sensitive Jack (Suburbicon’s Noah Jupe) and the popular boy Julian (Bryce Gheisar). While Jack becomes a friend, Julian’s vicious taunts make Auggie’s life difficult. Meanwhile, Via is left on her own to face the fact that her best friend (Danielle Rose Russell) seems to be drifting away.

The story is told from a variety of perspectives, which adds surprising insight as the film explores how Auggie’s condition affects him and the people around him. The details are so finely observed that the movie often feels almost journalistic in its approach, which makes it that much more involving.

At the centre, Tremblay gives a wonderfully internalised performance as a young boy with a voracious curiosity and steely will. As Via and Jack, Vidovic and Jupe offer complexity in their points of view. And Roberts and Owen, although a bit of an odd couple, bring a terrific mix of humour and tenacity in the way they both protect their son and push him out of the nest. Other characters are a little sidelined, but still have strong moments of their own.

The film is an unusually sure-handed depiction of real life, with a blend of earthy awkwardness, wit, tension and uncertainty. As a result, watching it is a hugely emotional rollercoaster, happy and sad, but never maudlin. Some of the elements feel a little too harsh, but the film skilfully and unflinchingly takes on narrow-minded attitudes and subtle bigotry while remaining properly heartwarming. It’s the kind of movie that should be required viewing in every school. And for grown-ups as well.