I feel like I’ve been seeing a bit of a rotation between the same kid actors lately. I don’t know, does anyone else feel that way?
Eh, who cares? A good story is all that matters.
WONDER is based on a 2012 children’s novel of the same name, written by R.J. Palacio, that went on to become a New York Times best seller… like every other movie based from that list. The book is obviously well-received and went on to spawn a spin-off, 365 Days of Wonder, and a sequel, Auggie and Me. At least… I think that’s what they are. Information is a little inconsistent and I know I won’t make the time to find them in a bookstore to confirm. In any case, there’s your history. You bookworms can correct my information as you see fit.
Now, being the uncultured swine that I am, I’ve obviously never even heard of these books. But I go to the movies pretty frequently, hence I see a bunch of trailers, and I have a vague idea of what the movie is about. It looks like it’s about this young boy who has a physical deformity and gets made fun of at school. But at least one kid is kind enough and they strike up a friendship. Basically it looks like it’s a story about acceptance of those that are different and an exploration of the life and times of a kid with this kind of condition.
Here’s the cast. We have the incredibly talented up and coming young star, Jacob Tremblay (THE BOOK OF HENRY , ROOM , and the upcoming THE PREDATOR ), Julia Roberts (SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE ), and Owen Wilson (CARS 3 , and upcoming films FATHER FIGURES  and SHANGHAI DAWN, no release date announced).
In support, we have Noah Jupe (SUBURBICON , 1 episode of TV show PENNY DREADFUL [2014 – 2016], and upcoming films THE TITAN  and HOLMES & WATSON ), Bryce Gheisar (A DOG’S PURPOSE ), Izabela Vidovic (2 episodes of SUPERGIRL [2015 – ongoing]), Elle McKinnon (TV projects I’ve never heard of), and Daveed Diggs (3 episodes of UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT [2015 – ongoing], and upcoming films FERDINAND  and BLINDSPOTTING ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing the script is Stephen Chbosky, known for THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER (2012), writing the screenplay for BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017), and creator of TV show JERICHO (2006 – 2008), and the upcoming PRINCE CHARMING, no release date announced. Chbosky’s partners-in-pen, making for a red flag total of three writers are Steve Conrad (UNFINISHED BUSINESS , THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY , and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS ) and Jack Thorne (a bunch of unknown TV projects and the upcoming comic adaptation, THE SANDMAN, no release date announced). Composing the score, we have Marcelo Zarvos, known for FENCES (2016), THE GOOD SHEPHERD (2006), and TV show THE BIG C (2010 – 2013). Finally, the cinematographer is Don Burgess, known for SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME (2017), ENCHANTED (2007), CONTACT (1997), and the upcoming AQUAMAN (2018).
Overall, I think this movie can easily be good, but risks being just a little too obvious and probably won’t go as far as it can go, if what I read about the book is true. I’ll likely explain myself in the review. Mean time…
This is my honest opinion of: WONDER
August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) was born with a genetic defect that required several surgeries to allow him to see, hear, and speak properly. Though he lives life as normally as possible, he is left with a disfigured face and scars. Still, he a nice kid and is transitioning from homeschooling with his mom Isabel (Julia Robberts) to his first day in middle school at a public school, much to the concerns of his loving father, Nate (Owen Wilson). Though his first day is rough, he does eventually start adjusting to life in school, and we learn about the lives around him as well.
I think this is one of the sweetest movies I’ve seen all year.
Say what you want about THE BOOK OF HENRY, I think Tremblay is a on a winning streak. This kid is such a good actor and he cranks it up ROOM levels here. Auggie is a sweet kid who struggles with his handicaps, looking down to avoid eye contact, is mostly quiet, but he’s funny, charming, weird and gross, you know, like every kid his age. But as much as he has his fun, he’s still hurt by the name calling and the things kids say behind his back. Kids have said that if anyone touches him, they get the plague. Another says he’d kill himself he looked like Auggie. Not to mention the bullying from Julian (Bryce Gheisar). As someone who was bullied in school as well (albeit a bit more mildly than Auggie), I get his mannerisms. An unwillingness to talk, about the specific problems or in general, looking down avoiding eye contact, which I still do as a twenty-eight year old adult, keep to myself, few friends, there’s a lot that I personally relate to and Auggie will definitely tear your hear out, and I mean that in the best possible way… if you couldn’t tell.
And the rest of the cast does really well too. You can argue that the characters may not be all that interesting, but I would argue that this isn’t meant to have the deepest characters, just good and likable. That’s exactly what we’re given. Roberts as Isabel and Wilson as Nate are both so likable as loving parents. I especially like the moment when Auggie comes out with Jack Will (Noah Jupe) at the end of school and Isabel is completely dumbfounded. When Auggie asks her if it’s okay if he comes over to their house, she’s all like, “Okay… I have got to be cool.” I don’t know, I love seeing that in parents, who are actively aware of how they present themselves to their kids’ friends. It tickles me.
I think if there’s any character outside of Auggie that really had some complexity was Via (Izabella Vidovic). While an incredibly loving sister to her younger brother, she’s still affected by a surprisingly honest sense of jealousy of her parents devoting so much of their attention to Auggie, rather than her. Thing is, I’m probably making it sound more mean-spirited than it is, but I like that about her. She knows why her parents show him more attention because he’s the one who has to live with his face and how many kids may make fun of him for it. She is incredibly understanding, but it sure does come at its own cost. She’s left out of simple conversations of just being asked how her day went at school, to bigger things like whether or not she should invite her parents to the school play that she auditioned for. But she never succumbs to being a rebel, changing her look to get attention, doesn’t act out beyond normal teen angst, she’s just a kind, sweet girl that wishes she could be afforded the same attention her brother gets. Also, her best friend Miranda (Danielle Rose Russell) totally ignores her at school, which drives her into a tailspin. She also gets into a cute relationship with Justin (Nadji Jeter), the “theater nerd” that motivates her to audition for the school play, which Miranda is also in. In retrospect, Via might be the best character in the movie. She may get a great deal of screen time, but I almost wouldn’t mind a spin off movie with just her.
There are even moments that I feel like I should be outraged with and call “foul and unrealistic,” but even that doesn’t seem to be too far off from reality. Specifically, after Julian is brought to the principal’s office for his mean photo toward to the end of the movie; the photo that photoshopped out Auggie in the class picture and then wrote “No freaks allowed” on it. His parents are called in, clearly rich and pompous people. The mom admits to doing the photoshop herself. First off, there’s no way on God’s green Earth that this woman has any idea how to use anything related to computers. She probably only knows how to check her email for the next business meeting that will raise money for rich people, or whatever. Second, she claims she did it because she wanted the people that visit their home to ask about their son, not Auggie. Um… is this a common thing for this family? Do guests look at the class photo, take one look at Auggie and spend the duration of their stay asking questions about that boy? I have a hard time believing that. Even if that were the case, then maybe they should take a hard long look at their lives and accept that maybe the reason why they’re asking about Auggie more than their own son is because their family isn’t very interesting and their son is an uninteresting suck-up.
I wanted to be so mad at how these parents treated the situation, fueling their son’s cruel habits, and even blaming Auggie for their son’s actions without holding him accountable for anything. But the more I thought about it… no, that’s exactly what parents to these types of kids do. They’re high off of believing that they’re the perfect family and that they have no problems to speak of. But when the first problem rears its ugly head, they deny it, or try to pass it off as someone else’s problem that got in the way of their perfection.
My only real issue with this scene is that we see Julian’s guilt over the photo. Thing is, we never see him act guilty over anything he does, so his humanity is pulled out of nowhere, which is pretty clunky. If we were occasionally shown moments of him feeling bad about his actions, this would make more sense. Heck, none of this even explains where the bullying comes from. Sure, one would think the more vicious bullying, like direct name calling, would be a result of borderline abusive parents who insult their own child. Not unlike physical abuse, the whole point is to feel empowered over someone smaller and weaker, which Julian is clearly doing. But his parents strike me more like the absentee types that never show him the love that most parents show their kid. So I would imagine his type of bullying would be more akin to subtly talking down to him and proclaiming how rich he is and how much better he is, rather than putting him down like he does in the movie. Something more subtle and snobbish, rather than verbal attacks. But hey, I’m no psychologist. Maybe bullying of any kind can come from any number of sources. I just didn’t buy the connections here.
Unfortunately, the most glaring problem, which honestly isn’t even all that big, that I have with the film is that there’s characters that are introduced, and get nice enough backstories, but we’re still not privy to who they actually are. Specifically, I mean Miranda. I like her backstory, that she was a close friend of Via’s when they were little and looks to the Pullman family as her second family, but when she went to camp over the summer, she wasn’t fitting in, or whatever the case was, and decided to pretend that she was Via. She claimed to the others around her that she had a disfigured brother and suddenly became really popular. But when she got back, she had made new friends, and was ridden with guilt upon meeting Via again, having spent months pretending to be her. Russell is certainly a charismatic enough actress to carry the role, but we never really see Miranda and Via make up as friends. It literally happens out of the blue. In a lot of ways, I wish we’d gotten more of her and her relationship with the protagonist family. It’s more of a case of being told her relationship to the Pullman family, rather than being shown the relationship.
In fact, that’s kind of a smaller issue with other characters as well. In the beginning of the story, we’re introduced to three other kids, Jack Will, Julian, and Charlotte (Elle McKinnon). At a glance, it’s like the movie is saying that these three kids, as well as Auggie, are going to be the most central to the story. While that’s true for Jack Will and Julian, I was a little bummed out that Charlotte wasn’t as central. Why? Because she was actually kind of funny. She’s this little girl who acted in commercials and is totally prideful about it, but not in a mean-spirited way. Just in an overly-proud kind of way. She’s not stuck-up, she just did something “famous-related” and is boasting, but she’s not an unlikable kid. In fact, throughout the film, she has a sort of admiration for Auggie and doesn’t like it when the other girls talk mean about him. It’s a shame she kind of gets thrown to the wayside for Summer (Millie Davis). Don’t get me wrong, Summer is a nice enough character and Davis is a good enough actress, but the character could have so easily been Charlotte that it’s a wonder why she wasn’t.
Also, did the movie ever really explain why Jack Will said that mean thing about killing himself if he looked like Auggie? I mean, I didn’t read the book, but I read about it online and he said what he said because he was just trying to be friends with Julian and he wanted to fit in by saying what they say. But this movie completely sidesteps that. They just get on MINECRAFT and apologize and that’s it. Maybe that fight between Jack Will and Julian softened Auggie’s edges, but it was still a mean-spirited moment that barely has a resolution. But I guess that fight and the surprisingly effective guilt-ridden face on Jack Will’s face after learning that Auggie was in the Ghost Face costume when he said what he said was enough.
Overall, this was a cute film. Tremblay is still a wonderful talent, Vidovic knocks it out of the park as the sister, Roberts and Wilson are ridiculously enjoyable and heartfelt, and the support kids do a great job as well. Some likable characters don’t get enough screen time in my opinion, and some things are explained in a clunky kind of way, but the movie definitely lives up to the name, so I highly recommend it. I might even consider owning it on Blu-Ray when the time comes. This movie doesn’t blend in with other kids films because it was made to stand out.
My honest rating for WONDER: a strong 4/5