Prepare the Tissues
Wonder is the latest film from The Perks of Being a Wallflower director, Stephen Chbosky, and is based on the New York Times bestselling novel by R. J. Palacio. In short, Wonder is a beautifully-made film that features exceptional performances from the entire cast, and successfully weaves a number of storylines to tell a heart-warming and emotional story—even if this is at the expense of a troubled and messy third act.
You’re a Wonder, Auggie
From Jacob Tremblay’s opening voiceover, Wonder hits you right in the heart—and it doesn’t let up until the end credits roll. However, this is not to say that Wonder is a necessarily sad film, because it isn’t; in fact, it should actually leave you feeling happy.
Wonder is told through multiple perspectives, all of which get their due time in the spotlight. In the centre of it all is August (Auggie) Pullman, a boy with a facial deformity who’s about to enter fifth grade. Auggie is brilliantly portrayed by Jacob Tremblay, who is probably the best child actor working in Hollywood at the moment. It’s hard to believe he’s only eleven when he’s giving performances like this. While I can’t see him getting any Oscar consideration for this role, he’s got a bright future ahead of him.
In fact, all of the kids are exceptional in this film. It’s a testament not only to their acting ability, but also to the wonderful directing by Stephen Chbosky. Despite the large cast, I cared about every single character and even now I can remember them all—which isn’t always the case.
Orbiting the Son
Auggie’s older sister is Via (played by Izabela Vidovic), who is a well-written foil to Auggie. While everybody notices him (for better or for worse), Via mostly feels as though she’s invisible. She’s losing her best friend, and she’s the child who’s left in the shadows. While her storyline basically has no impact on the main plot, it is an enjoyable ride from start to finish.
Throughout Wonder, we also focus on Jack Will (played by Noah Jupe). Jack is one of the first boys Auggie meets when he arrives at his new school. He’s one of the more engaging characters, coming from a group of friends who decide to give Auggie hell. The leader of the group even goes so far as to call Auggie Darth Sidious on his first day—which is promptly followed by a brief but hilarious and unexpected cameo from the Emperor himself (obviously not played by Ian McDiarmid). Jack is a well-developed character, and the dynamic between him and Auggie is fun to watch.
One thing Wonder does exceptionally well is giving its characters agency to change. Everyone, even Auggie, constantly fluctuates throughout the course of the film—maybe with the exception of their parents, who are portrayed by Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, both giving strong performances.
Wait, is this a Star Wars Movie?
I was pleasantly surprised at how many references and cameos were stuffed inside Wonder. I’m a pretty huge geek, and it was a lot of fun getting to see and hear so many pop culture easter eggs. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say it’s pretty easy to tell where most of the film’s budget went. There’s a through line in which Auggie constantly talks about his Boba Fett Halloween costume—which conveniently gets vomited on by the dog right before he’s going to wear it. That probably saved the studio a few thousand dollars of licensing. Auggie also has his own Padawan braid and his bedroom is full of Star Wars merchandise.
Speaking of which, another highlight of the film is just how “real” all the kids are. A lot of the time you get younger characters written like little adults, but all of the eleven-year-olds in Wonder talk and behave like actual eleven-year-olds! At some points, they’re going crazy and brimming with childish innocence, and at other times they’re downright mean. But whether they’re getting into fights, discussing Star Wars characters, or simply having a good time, they always feel genuine.
As you might have sensed already, Wonder is trying to do a lot of things. I haven’t read the source material, but it does feel as though the screenwriters have attempted to recreate it as faithfully as possible, and that structure doesn’t always translate well to screen.
At its core, Wonder is about Auggie—but it’s also about so much more. It’s about how others perceive him, how these perceptions change . . . and then in some ways it’s not about Auggie at all. Via, the older sister, has her own storyline which is completely separate from his; it could be its own film!
Wonder is a long film—hell, it’s only about ten minutes shorter than Justice League. You really begin to feel this in the third act, which is a little bit of a mess. It’s primarily due to the fact we need to wrap up so many storylines, none of which ever really come together. They are forced to resolve separately, and this creates a Return of the King scenario, in which we’re treated to one ending after another. I’ll be honest, I thought the film was about to end three times before the credits rolled.
That all said, I still enjoyed every minute of Wonder. It could have used some tightening of the screws. It might have benefited from having its storylines more closely connect. But, in the end, those may simply be issues in translation from book to screen.
Wonder No More
With some minor quibbles aside, I absolutely loved Wonder. Whereas films like A Monster Calls (another brilliant film based on a bestselling novel) are just way too sad for me, Wonder will leave you feeling happy. It’s funny, emotional, and has great performances all-round. Not only is it a perfect film for the whole family, it is important, and I highly recommend you check it out.
FINAL VERDICT: 4.5/5
Wonder is in theaters as of this article’s writing and was produced by Lionsgate, Mandeville Films, Participant Media, Walden Media, and TIK Films. Distributed by Lionsgate.