Wonder centres on August “Auggie” Pullman, a ten-year-old boy who was born with a severe genetic disease that left him with a facial deformity. He is starting at middle school after being homeschooled and of course, he faces hardships as his classmates ostracise him for his looks.
I have not read the original book by R L Palacio so I will be taking Wonder the film as a separate piece of art in and of itself. I have heard good things about the book and that it tries to convey a positive message. So does the film have such noble intentions? Wonder is one of these very uplifting films that aside from its emotional messages should be mostly uninteresting. The film is well shot, edited, acted but all these things, done well, are virtually invisible. There is that same warm saturation that colours the film that is supposed to envelop you like a warm bath; an almost sepia tone to induce a feeling of comfort and nostalgia. It looks similar to A Dogs Purpose, a film that was released earlier this year. However, A Dogs Purpose was not particularly good, it felt a little obvious and the fact that it had a dog that died not once, but at least five separate times made the film cheap.
The same can be said of Wonder’s acting, which is unfortunate because again the good acting is almost invisible and these are talented actors. Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson do solid jobs as Auggie’s Parents. Both do well as distinct characters with distinct fears and goals about Auggie’s first days at school. Julia Roberts as the mother is no-nonsense and caring, while Owen Wilson is all nonsense as Auggie’s Dad. Jacob Tremblay, from 2015’s Room, is similarly good as Auggie underneath a layer of prosthetics. All of the actors do well during the lighter parts of the film and then when the emotions get turned up to 11, they are able to keep up with the more complex issues at play, although it does tend to feel a bit melodramatic as the actors deal with the typical soap opera fair. If we were to take these two parts as to be representative of the whole film, Wonder is not going to resonate in the same way that the filmmakers probably hoped.
However, while appearing to be an average, uplifting story about a boy with a disability overcoming adversity, Wonder seems to offer something more. The film may start out with Auggie, but we start to learn about other characters, his friend Jack Will, his sister Olivia “Via” and Via’s friend Miranda. In that way, we are exposed not only to Auggie’s story but how it affects others, as well as their own challenges and lives. The best moments of the film are when this happens, for example when we start to learn more about the kids that bully Auggie and when we get a glimpse at Miranda’s broken home life. In these moments, Wonder shows that it is a film of depth by presenting its characters as more than two-dimensional bullies. The story is still a melodrama and it is clear that it was geared to yank at the hearts of its audience, but despite the more obvious construction of this film, the warmth that it has is able to seep into your soul. It not only makes you think about Auggie on the screen but about those around you, the ones you interact with on a regular basis.
Wonder is, pardon the expression, a wonder. It is a film that despite its obvious sentimental, saccharine nature is able to worm its way into the hearts of the most hardened cynic. While it’s not going to change the world or make any lists it is a solid film that you can put on in the background of a wet Sunday afternoon. Your mileage may vary when it comes to this sappier fair, but if you want something life-affirming, then, despite its dull appearance, Wonder is the film for you.
You can watch Wonder in cinema’s now