Review: Wonder is the Feel-Good Film of the Year
Wonder is based on the best selling children’s book by author R.J. Palacio. The story follows a young boy named August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) who was born with a facial deformity. Auggie has spent most of his childhood in and out of hospitals hoping to get corrective surgery, but unfortunately, his deformity cannot be corrected. As a way to help facilitate Auggie leading a normal life, his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts) and father Nate (Owen Wilson) decide to stop homeschooling and send him to a private school where he will be able to learn and interact with other kids his age. As Auggie enters school for the first time, he is met with strange looks and harsh criticism from his classmates. As the school year continues, Auggie begins to question whether or not he will ever be able to fit in and if anyone will look past his deformity and see him for who he is on the inside.
When I first saw the advertisements for Wonder, I was instantly brought back to my childhood with fond memories of the underrated and overlooked film Mask from 1985. That film was based on a true story and focused on a teenager who had a facial deformity. Wonder could very easily be the unofficial prequel to that film as it is just as life-affirming and heartwarming.
Wonder is the best family film of the year because it makes the viewer think about their own lives and how they look at and judge those around them. I️ must say that there has been a significant lack of live-action family films lately that are wholesome and have great messages. Wonder is a real rarity to see which makes it even more special. The story reminds everyone to be kind to each other and to never judge a book by its cover. The messages within this film aren’t just essential and geared towards children but to adults as well. We often forget as we get older not to be judgmental and look down upon others when he or she doesn’t fit into what we consider to be “the norm.”
What this film does so remarkably well is that it shows the audience the world through young eyes with most of the story being told from Auggie’s perspective. We see him just seeking acceptance and trying not to stand out, but everyone around him including his parents are pushing and judging him. The film shows how everyone but Auggie can’t seem to understand how painful it is for him to put himself out there each and every day only to be belittled and criticized.
There is a great moment when one of Auggie’s classmates gets sent to the principal’s for bullying him. The child’s parents get called into the Principal’s office after their son has repeatedly bullied Auggie throughout the film. In this scene, the kid is rather apologetic for his behavior, yet his parents are the ones who are blinded by their own pride to the harshness of their son’s actions. The mom tries to make excuses for him which leads to the whole “oh, their just children” speech. This scene shows how some parents set bad examples for their children because they are the ones who are quick to judge but don’t bother to take the time to reflect on how they would feel if the situation were reversed. As adults, we are usually quick to judge one another person without really knowing them. This film reminds us to take that time to not only respect one another but open our minds and respect others who are different than we are.
The themes in Wonder are universal. It’s not telling the audience anything that they shouldn’t already know but simply reminds the viewer not to be so close-minded and take the time to appreciate others. The entire film is about a kid with a facial deformity and how others judge him but you can easily replace the deformity with something like race or a mental illness, and it would still convey the same important messages which include don’t be afraid to stand out and be kind to one another.
Jacob Tremblay delivers his finest performance since Room. As Auggie, Tremblay has to walk a fine line of playing a normal kid and also being a social outcast. He loves Star Wars, Halloween, video games, and everything that most kids like but he is ridiculed daily due to the way he looks. Tremblay finds that perfect balance between childhood innocence and the frustration of being different from his classmates. As a young actor, Tremblay has this remarkable and charming on-screen presence that makes it nearly impossible not to love the incredible amount of energy that he brings to the table.
Auggie’s sister, Via played by Izabela Vidovic is equally as amazing as Tremblay. As Auggie’s older sister, she accepts but often struggles with the fact that Auggie is always the center of attention. Throughout the film, we see how Auggie is the one that everyone is so worried about when clearly Via is yearning for some attention as well. Luckily, she finds an outlet for her frustration which in return leads to her rekindling a lost friendship and finding a boyfriend who is supportive and understanding of not only her but of her family.
The young supporting cast is rather strong in their performances. While it will take far too much time to name and talk about each one. I️ will say that Noah Jupe is the real standout among the supporting child actors. Jupe impressed me last month with his performance in Suburbicon and now, he gets to shine even more as Jack Will. His character Jack gets his own backstory and as the viewer, we get to see and understand how he thinks. The way the film shapes his character does make the viewer feel like they are inside the mind of an 11-year-old. The way that the film handles this makes it very easy to understand as to why Jack is torn on what decisions he should make throughout most of the film.
The adult supporting cast is all good as well but surprisingly they don’t get that much screen time considering it’s Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts. I️ will say that while that may bug some viewers, I️ liked the fact that the film was told from a younger perspective. Roberts and Wilson step in when they need to and they deliver the goods but this film is really about the young actors. I️ do feel that I️ would be doing the film a great disservice by not mentioning Mandy Patinkin as Mr. Tushman, the principal of the school. Patinkin plays this role so perfectly because he seems to get that every student is different and has a lot to deal with in terms of the difference of personalities with not only the students but their parents as well. Patinkin doesn’t have that much screen time but every scene he does show up in, he shines quite brightly.
All in all, Wonder is the feel-good film of the year and one that reminds the world to be kind to one another. You have to be heartless to walk out of this film and not be moved by it. It is just a heartwarming and heartfelt film that can be appreciated by a 5-year-old to a 100-year-old grandparent.