When we are first introduced to Wonder’s lead character Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), he’s wearing a space helmet. Auggie hides from the world on account of a genetic anomaly that has required him to have several surgeries. Wonder asks some pretty important questions regarding the way we treat other people. Too often, we see bullying. In schools and in Youtube comments we are flooded with cruel tauntings. Stephen Chbosky’s (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) latest finds the director tackling something he’s excelled at in his career. Wonder, much like Perks is very much a look at teenage, and childhood torments. Chbosky takes a nuanced apporach to a subject matter and concept with the ability to be heavy handed, and turns into something emotionally impactful.
Generally, when you have subject matter fit for a Hallmark Channel movie of the week it can go one of two ways. In Wonder, the film takes the way of one making use of it’s tremendous talent. A cast that features in young Mr. Tremblay in yet another stellar role as Auggie. Behind the makeup, is a performance well beyond the 11-year-old in terms of maturity. Tremblay is magnetic. But surrounding the young actor, are veterans like Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson giving one of his most thoughtful and effective performances in recent memory.
Perhaps one of the biggest scene stealers is Izabela Vidovic. Playing the Pullman’s daughter, Via, she gives an equally balanced and emotional performance. Via gets left behind in the chaos that is Auggie’s life. Her relationship, although strained and a touch cliched, never feels cheap. Via is left to fend for herself and it’s forced her to grow up quickly. Losing her best friend, gaining new ones, Via, and Auggie as well, are the heart and soul of Wonder.
Wonder deftly dodges the tropes that one would typically find in these types of films, all the while not shying away from them either. The various characters within the school are archetypal. The cool teachers, bully “trust fund” kids, as Auggie refers to them and even the kid who does the right things, but isn’t perfect. That last role is filled very well by Noah Jupe, who plays Jack Will. Jack is possibly the most grounded and relatable character in the film. Throughout the first part of the film, Jack is the type of ne’er-do-well you’d expect to find. Torn between being “cool” and being a friend to Auggie, Jack is bright, and with the help of Auggie, he discovers a little more about himself. That’s the purpose of Auggie. He serves two roles, the main character and, maybe not by his choice, the source of emotional change for all the people in his life.
For some, Wonder may tug on the heartstrings a bit too much. Admittedly, it does get sloppy near the end, with Chbosky trying to prove not everyone is good. But that sentiment isn’t needed, but one particular scene near the end of the film ultimately seems pointless as its central conflict is wrapped up quickly. Still, the movie avoids being preachy and altogether overly sentimental. In a sense, Wonder is lighter follow up of sorts to The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Both films do a wonderful job of digging deeper to misfits and their psyches.
Though Wonder doesn’t necessarily feel like anything you haven’t seen before, it gives a larger film that indie feel. The film puts its talented cast to great use, and Chbosky pulls some wonderful performances out his younger actors. Wonder is a touching ode to friendship and a heartfelt salute to those who are different. It’s light and breezy, and altogether a satisfying time at the theater.
Have you seen Wonder? Let us know what you thought!
Runtime: 113 Minutes
Starring: Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts, Izabela Vidovic, Daveed Diggs, Mandy Patinkin, Noah Jupe
Directed by: Stephen Chbosky