Review by Siobhan Rich for Mr. Will Wong
One of the biggest literary hits of 2012 was a YA Novel. Written by RJ Palacio, Wonder sparked a revolution amongst its readers encouraging them “if you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” This message is shared by Mr. Browne (Daveed Diggs) to his fifth-grade class on Auggie Pullman’s first day of school. The well-to-do kids at Beecher Prep have never seen someone like Auggie and most don’t know how to treat him but this gentle reminder to student and audience alike sets the tone for the entire movie.
Auggie has a genetic disorder that has resulted in countless surgeries which have left his face disfigured. After years of homeschooling, his mother feels it is time for her highly intelligent son to socialize with his peers. For a kid who prefers to wear an astronaut helmet in public this is a big step which Auggie is not happy about. Once at Beecher, Auggie must cope with the pressure to make friends, deal with bullies, and fit in with a social group outside his immediately family.
As with the Book, the Movie seeks to tell Auggie’s Story from multiple points of view most notably his sister Via’s. Like many siblings of special needs children, Via feels like a side character in her own life. Often overlooked by her family she nonetheless loves her brother but wonders what it would be like to be an only child. Izabela Vidovic’s performance rings true and brings the audience an often-unheard side of the story.
More than the make-up effects used to create his Mandibulofacial Ddysostosis, the Movie hinges on Jacob Tremblay’s ability to balance both the maturity of someone who has undergone numerous surgeries and the petulant nature of an average ten-year-old. Surrounded by a talented cast of child actors including Millie Davis and Noah Jupe, Tremblay’s tendency to err on the side of sullen gets old rather quickly making it easier to sympathize with his sister.
Wonder’s adult stars, including Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Mandy Patinkin, are good but suffer from an affliction commonly found in projects with child leads: they are secondary players who find themselves playing the awkward buddy or sympathetic Yoda. In contrast to the blunt honesty of the Movie’s children, Roberts’ Isabel Pullman is an endless source of fortune cookie wisdom meant to bolster her son; “‘You can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.” Wilson’s Nate on the other hand, is less certain Auggie should attend school and plays his role as playmate over parent.
A veteran of film adaptations, Co-Screenwriter and Director Stephen Chbosky proves his mettle weaving the Auggie story with that of the people around him. Wonder works hard at being very of the moment with references to Star Wars, Minecraft and a fitting but upbeat Soundtrack featuring the Natalie Merchant song which helped inspire the Book. Although the preteen-appropriate message of anti-bullying lands strong during the Third Act, the Movie lacks a true emotional core. There are several moments where it feels like something should happen but never does. For example, when Auggie and his classmates venture out on a school trip the camera angles, tension building, and foreshadowing hint toward a big climax which simply never materializes.
Cynical people may find the schmaltzy Wonder a little too heavy-handed in its message of respecting and being kind to one another. Realists might think this is a message the world could use a little more of right now. Whether you are a fan of the Book or simply a fan of being kind, choose Wonder.
eOne Films release WONDER on Friday, November 17, 2017.