Plain, Simple Tom reviews . . . “Wonder” (2017)

Adapted from R. J. Palacio’s book and directed by The Perks of Being a Wallflower‘s Stephen Chbosky, 2017’s Wonder centres around young Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) who was born with a rare facial deformity, having had to go through 27 surgeries to help him see, hear and breathe, and whose parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson) decide to finally enroll him in school, Auggie previously having been homeschooled. The film follows Auggie as he has to overcome bullying and the hurtful comments and stares of the other schoolkids while at the same time, looking at how his predicament affects all those around him, in particular his older sister Via (Isabel Vidavic).

Perhaps what makes Wonder stand out over other, similar films is that it expectedly keeps its protagonist at the very heart of things but also makes an effort to look at how his journey affects those around him, most prominently his friends and family. As is said in the film, Auggie is like the sun, these other characters seem to revolve around him, and the things that he does perhaps cause a ripple effect that affects the other people in his life, characters who we may not have thought twice about in another film of a similar nature. Primarily, we see in Wonder that Auggie’s loving older sister Via has to cope with the fact that Auggie gets the lion’s share of attention, owing to his predicament, and is often overlooked as she has plenty of things going on in her life, difficult teen problems that are somewhat similar to the ones Auggie is going through, but she essentially has to deal with them on her own. All of this may be the film’s biggest asset as the Via sidestory is particularly strong, sometimes even more interesting than the main plot thread, and it’s good to see the film do something different by looking at the bigger picture, exploring the development of those characters who “orbit” around Auggie, like Via, his mother, his friends, and even the family dog.

Tonally, the film is just about right because Wonder is a genuinely well-intentioned piece and it manages to be sweet, charming and smile inducing without being emotionally manipulative as well as maintaining a solid pace and a good structure. But having said that, Wonder is still a little too sugarsweet for my liking and there are a few instances where we hear a couple of “trailer worthy” lines such as “you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out” and “You ARE a wonder” (saying the film’s title in the film itself – always a joy!). The film also goes a little overboard with the whole “chapters” element (it occasionally digresses to look at other characters, their names forming the chapter title) and the near constant narration from different people tends to get a little overwhelming. For me, Wonder conveys its messages well but is overall a bit too safe and hits a little too softly.

Performances are great across the board and at the centre, Jacob Tremblay continues to prove himself as one of the most formidable child actors of this generation, though perhaps not reaching the immense high standard that he set for himself with Room. As Auggie, he is perfectly likeable and manages to showcase a varied range of emotions: loneliness, despair, joy and a welcome sense of humour, dishing out a few wiseass quips when required. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson provide the strongest adult performances, Roberts being a passionate, unwavering maternal influence and Wilson being a cool, friendly but also deep and caring father figure, and Izabela Vidovic definitely holds her own throughout as sister Via, admirably holding up the best sidestory of the film. Noah Jupe is ideally suited to the best friend role of Jack Will, continuing to impress after his notable performance in the otherwise forgettable Suburbicon, Bryce Gheisar is appropriately smarmy and hissable as Julian, essentially the antagonist of the piece, and Mandy Patinkin is wonderful as the caring school principal Mr. Tushman, another character who’s clearly learned to cope with the ridicule of schoolkids!

All in all, I don’t have too much to say about Wonder other than it’s a nice, charming film that has all the best intentions, putting across the message that inner beauty is what matters most, that bullying is a truly horrible thing, and showing the importance of friendship and family. However, there are surely films out there that have dealt with similar themes to a greater effect so Wonder perhaps doesn’t bring anything game changing to the table, besides looking at how a child dealing with bullying can affect so many other lives, and, knowing full well what kind of film this is going in, you can see just where it’s all headed. For me, it didn’t win me over fully but I can clearly see that there is a ton of good feeling at its heart and the messages continue to be relevant in today’s society – the cast and crew’s hard work was certainly not in vein.

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A little by-the-book but still a nice, sweet, charming film with commited performances and important messages about kindness.

★ ★ ★

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