“…thanks to some genuinely excellent performances and a director’s unashamed mission to absolutely yank upon our collective heart strings, Wonder is an absolute lip-wobbler of a feel good film.”
Earlier this year, Marc Webb’s sassy, touching drama, Gifted, told the story of a highly intelligent precocious young child who had been home schooled up until a certain age. Her father was then adamant that she should be ‘unleashed’ into the real world in order to improve her social skills and to learn how to integrate with other children.
A child so intellectually advanced yet socially inept was always going to struggle to fit in and it’s therefore no surprise when her integration proves to be fraught with complications.
The similarities between Webb’s film and Stephen Chbosky’s latest offering, Wonder, are obvious and plentiful.
Auggie Pullman (Jacob Tremblay), is a young lad with severe facial disfiguration. He too is somewhat gifted – in the field of science – and has been home schooled by his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts). She has made the brave decision to now enrol Auggie in school in order that he too may have the opportunity to assimilate with others of his own age.
It’s a courageous step for all concerned given Auggie’s special circumstances and knowing how cruel children can be at that young, impressionable age, and one that Auggie’s father, Nate (Owen Wilson), is understandably unsure about.
Nevertheless, the young boy, shielded within the security of his favourite astronaut helmet, is encouraged to take the plunge. Predictably, life’s lessons come thick and fast for the poor wee thing, weighing heavily not only upon Auggie’s vulnerable young shoulders, but upon those that love and look out for him too.
If we’re being brutally honest, there’s very little by way of originality in Stephen Chbosky’s film. This is a familiar story of not fitting in, and all of the assorted trials and tribulations that go along with that. Lessons, however, will be learned and ultimately the director is keen to relay an entirely positive message, and to say that, is really not to give away anything that you wouldn’t already have suspected.
Far from being a predictable cliché-ridden waste of everyone’s time, however, thanks to some genuinely excellent performances and a director’s unashamed mission to absolutely yank upon our collective heart strings, Wonder is an absolute lip-wobbler of a feel good film.
Naturally, Auggie’s story is very much at the forefront of things, but Chbosky also weaves in a number of the support characters’ own stories into proceedings as explanation for why they have come to be how they are, and act like they act. This is a nice idea in theory, adding a little depth to the characterisation, though it should be said that it only partially works here, and one or two of these character biographies are so short and unrevealing that they might as well have not been included at all.
It is the side story of Auggie’s older sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic), however, that is most pertinent. A young, well-adjusted girl whose life has understandably been one of constantly having to play second fiddle to her brother. Auggie’s many years of surgery and continual need for attention and reassurance has left Via feeling as though she is a bit of an after thought for her parents. A simmering resentment is therefore never far from the surface whenever she and her mother are together, and even any shared plans that they may have to spend dedicated quality time together are never more than one Auggie-related phone call away from being unceremoniously aborted.
But such is life in the Pullman household.
Original it may well not be, but thanks to some beautifully played key roles, Wonder cannot help but hit the mark. Julia Roberts in particular blends both strength and tender maternal concern quite beautifully and with great sensitivity. Jacob Tremblay – so convincing in 2016’s Room – demonstrates that the trajectory arc of his career continues to rise in one direction only, and a special mention should be made for Izabela Vidovic, whose portrayal of Auggie’s sister, Via, is one of subtle depth and know how.
With films like Wonder, and Gifted before it, there is aways a danger that they may slip on the treacly mess of their own over-sentimentality. But whilst there is no doubt that Stephen Chbosky is unafraid to slap on his own brand of emotional emulsion, thick, and with numerous coats, the end result is a film so finely glossed and beautiful, it’ll bring a lump to your throat.
Though admittedly that may just be the paint fumes.