Updated: Feb 5, 2020
Wonder is the story of August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay from the 2015 indie drama Room). Auggie was born with a facial deformity that resulted in him having 27 surgeries. His parents, Isabel (four-time Oscar nominee Julia Roberts) and Nate (Owen Wilson, who will also be seen next month in the raunchy comedy Father Figures), and his sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), have been very protective of him his entire life. After years of homeschooling, his parents have decided that, at the age of ten, Auggie is ready for public school just in time for fifth grade. Wonder (an adaptation of the children’s novel of the same name by R.J. Palacio) is a tender and heartwarming story that not only shows Auggie’s adjustment to being a part of the outside world, but also shows the effect that Auggie has on those he comes into contact with.
Obviously, Auggie’s transition to public school is not without its share of drama. Kids stare and he is bullied. Much of the drama comes from whether or not the other kids will be nice to him. It sounds slight, but is very effective because the filmmakers understand how important peer approval (or disapproval) is from elementary school all the way through high school (and sometimes even after that). The way others react to him, both kids and adults, provides the drama and emotion of the story.
Auggie’s story is not the only one Wonder tells. The film becomes even more powerful because it also gives insight into all of the major players in Auggie’s world.
Two of those other major characters are his parents. Nate is friendly and funny in the usual Owen Wilson way. Of the major characters, he is given the least amount of story. Isabel was working on her dissertation when Auggie was born. However, the struggles he experienced starting at his birth caused her to put the rest of her life on hold for him. Now that he is in public school, she needs to remember how to be someone other than Auggie’s mother. It is a really good performance from Roberts, who is able to convey her character’s emotions through small gestures and facial expressions.
The fourth major character is Auggie’s sister. Via is just entering high school. Her life has been defined by her brother ever since he was born. Though their parents love her, 95% of their attention goes Auggie’s way. He needs more care, so she has to take care of herself. She has leaned heavily on her friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) for support but, as the new school year begins, Miranda has fallen in with a new group of friends and has no time for Via anymore. Her loneliness and struggles for attention are a good counterpoint to Auggie, who gets attention whether he wants it or not.
It also tells Miranda’s story as well as that of Auggie’s new friend Jack Will (Noah Jupe, Matt Damon’s son in last month’s Suburbicon) and how their lives are changed by Auggie and the rest of the Pullman family. Jacob Tremblay is the star (and he is very good), but Wonder gives plenty of time to the rest of the cast. That is very much to the film’s benefit, not just because the cast is good (I have not even mentioned Mandy Patinkin (from the Showtime thriller Homeland) as the school principal or Daveed Diggs (from the original run of Broadway’s Hamilton) as Auggie’s teacher), but also because their stories add context to Auggie’s and make it even more touching.
Wonder (105 minutes without the end credits) is the very definition of a crowd-pleaser. It is a movie about good people overcoming misfortune (and, in Auggie’s case, some bullying) by being good people. I truly cared for these characters and never felt manipulated by their story, even though I knew the filmmakers were manipulating me. It has a good message (be kind), some humor and a very good cast. It is smart, clever and actually likes the people whose story it is telling. In short, Wonder is kind of wonderful.
4 out of 5
Jacob Tremblay as Auggie
Izabela Vidovic as Via
Julia Roberts as Isabel
Owen Wilson as Nate
Noah Jupe as Jack Will
Daveed Diggs as Mr. Browne
Mandy Patinkin as Mr. Tushman
Nadji Jeter as Justin
Danielle Rose Russell as Miranda
Bryce Gheisar as Julian
Directed by Stephen Chbosky
Screenplay by Stephen Chbosky, Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne