Wonder wears its heart on its sleeve, and anchored by a brilliant performance by Jacob Tremblay, the film is a delight.
August Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) seems just like your typical kid. He has similar aspirations to many other children, and is particularly passionate about science and space travel. He has spent his entire academic career being homeschooled by his mother (Julia Roberts), living largely in isolation from the outside world. This is because August (known as Auggie) was born with facial differences, which, physically, set him apart from everyone else. Wonder, directed by Stephen Chbosky, begins as Auggie is set to take on the fifth grade, leaving homeschooling behind for mainstream education.
There isn’t much mystery coursing through the veins of Wonder. At first glance, the film is more or less exactly what you would expect it to be. A story about a young kid trying to make it through school with facial differences is one filled with heartbreaking and heartwarming moments in equal measure. The film is not particularly interested in surprises, and if you’re the type of person already welling up at the idea of an innocent little boy trying to make persevering in the face of adversity, Wonder will be perfect for you. Thankfully, second time director Stephen Chbosky handles the film with a rather surprising gravitas, infusing Wonder with the ability to have an exceptionally wide appeal.
A narrative adaptation, Chbosky (who wrote the book and directed the film The Perks of Being A Wallflower) wisely keeps a literary structure, dividing sections of the film into chapters, each diving into the perspective of a different character. While the film is ostensibly all about Auggie, the screenplay’s structure (written by Chbosky, Steven Conrad and Jack Thorne) gives the film an unexpected dimension, and the variety of stories is a welcome surprise and valuable addition to the film. Chbosky’s previous film Perks of Being A Wallflower is one of the best films about the teenage experience in recent memory, and some of the pathos and warmth from that film is certainly still evident in Wonder. Chbosky has clearly crafted himself a career in making emotionally affecting movies about young people, as Wonder is one of the most heartwarming films of the year.
As Auggie, Jacob Tremblay is nothing short of tremendous. The young actor was a breakout star in Room, and continues to display exceptional charisma and star power in the lead role of Wonder. Auggie is a sensitive yet hugely resilient child, and his desire to be treated just like everybody else is felt in every scene. It’s always risky to place your film in the hands of a child actor, but Tremblay has proven to be as safe a bet as any.
While Wonder is a film that doesn’t shy away from the difficulties Auggie faces in day to day life, what brings it down is its almost compulsive need to tie a neat little bow on every single plotline. While the ending is exceptionally heartwarming and well executed, Wonder races to sweep every possible problem under the rug, which is a shame for a film that appears to be concerned with showing an authentic look at what it means to be different.
Still, the film is a pretty impressive achievement. The film is unabashedly manipulative, but sometimes its okay for a film to hold your hand and guide you through a wide range of emotions. Thanks to some smart choices and convincing performances from the cast, moments that could feel hokey feel genuine, and Wonder often feels heartfelt, clever, and downright delightful. This is the kind of film that inspires you to be a better person. Just have your tissues ready.
Wonder is out in UK cinemas now.