Wonder is based on the New York Times bestseller of the same name and tells the story of August Pullman. The young boy, better known as Auggie, was born with facial differences, which resulted in a number of surgeries and prevented him from going to mainstream school. Now preparing to enter fifth grade, he is ready to embark on a life-changing journey that will test his mettle and challenge his family as those around them grapple with their sense of compassion and acceptance.
Directed by Stephen Chbosky, best known for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, this is an inspiring and heartwarming tale about fitting in against the odds. Taking a heartfelt and nostalgic disposition, reminiscent of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky guides this drama on a similar coming-of-age path as our innocent and impressionable lead tries to find his place in the world. Much like an “Elephant Man Jr.”, the story encounters prejudice, ridicule and alienation. Being in a school setting, amid the cruelty of innocent and not-so-innocent children, the emotion is amplified. Thankfully the deft direction means that the tears are earned more often than coerced.
Amazing visual effects and make-up artistry turn Jacob Tremblay into young Auggie. This talented young actor is as well disguised as Charlize Theron was in Monster and delivers an impressive and heartfelt performance with great respect and sensitivity. While the film centres on Auggie, it also features a subplot involving his sister, Via, played quite expertly by newcomer Izabela Vidovic. Conveying a teenage character, in a similar gear and spirit to Juno and Edge of Seventeen in terms of performance and theme, Wonder creates a rich, layered and authentic atmosphere for the siblings and their unique struggles.
“I think he meant to say two words: plastics… surgery.”
While showcasing two fantastic performances from Tremblay and Vidovic, it’s also bolstered by a number of fine supporting performances from the older talents. Owen Wilson is his usual understated, charming and likable self in a more grounded performance as Auggie’s dad. Mandy Patinkin does a fine job of playing the knowing school principal, Mr. Tushman, while Julia Roberts shines as a doting mother who has turned her son into her life’s work. Wonder is a real team effort in terms of the acting ensemble, from child to adult star, which pulls together to create a medium of sincerity and realness.
Injecting a fantasy element, mostly through the theme of being an astronaut, Wonder lives up to its name. Auggie’s astronaut helmet and daydreams intermingle with his waking life, adding another dimension and serving as a curious platform for many offbeat Star Wars references. While as bizarre as the dancing baby in Ally McBeal, they are welcome distractions from the pangs of emotion. Wonder is heartrending but in the same breath it’s delightful and funny, creating a place for life’s soaring highs, crushing lows and everything in between.
While this ugly duckling tale was bound to be a tearjerker, it’s one of those rewarding, life-affirming films that you don’t regret seeing. The strong collective of performances, sharp-witted writing and balanced directing combine to create something that appeals to heart, mind and soul. Wrestling with human nature, othering and society’s constant battle for and against conformity, Wonder is entertaining and a joy to watch, even if you have to wipe away a few tears. With several standout performances, this crowd-pleasing film will undoubtedly garner a few nominations come awards season.
The bottom line: Heartfelt