Stars: Jacob Tremblay, Owen Wilson, Julia Roberts
Released: 1st December 2017 (UK)
Reviewer: Sinead Beverland
Based on the New York Times bestselling book, Wonder arrives on the big screen with star power attached in the form of Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson. They portray the parents of August (Auggie) Pullman, a 10 year old boy with a rare genetic condition which means he doesn’t look like other kids. Just from the premise alone, you know this is going to be one of those films that tugs hard at your heart strings and imparts a valuable message. It’s textbook Hollywood; adversity, triumph, laughter and tears all seen through by a great cast, adorable kids, glossy shots and the occasional Star Wars character (they’re obligatory in every movie now, right?)
Cynicism aside, Wonder is a family movie that does exactly what is says on the tin and to be fair it does it well. Jacob Tremblay, who gave an outstanding performance as Jack in Room, portrays Auggie with both humour and vulnerability. I am sure there will be some debate over choosing an actor without Auggie’s condition to portray him, but it would be unfair to judge Tremblay on this point.
The pairing of Roberts and Wilson as Auggie’s parents may seem somewhat odd, but both do what they do best, giving heartfelt performances cut through with humour. Roberts in particular will have you welling up as she speaks to her son after a particularly rough day at school and Wilson’s inimitable laid back style sits well within his role.
The film opens with Auggie (encased in the NASA helmet that has become his safety blanket) narrating his story to us. Moving swiftly through his back story, difficult birth and multiple operations, he introduces us to his parents and sister and the main crux of the story; he is about to enter middle school for the first time. This is a daunting experience for anyone, but even more so for Auggie given his facial differences. He is a charming kid, intelligent, funny, and science and star wars obsessed. Obviously you are rooting for him from the very outset.
The real selling point of Wonder is in the presentation of the characters surrounding Auggie. With sections exploring the internal monologues of his friend Jack, sister Via and her friend Miranda, the concept that you never know what is going on inside someone else, is brought vividly to life. Of all these monologues, Via’s is perhaps the most touching. As the older sister, she clearly adores her brother but is resigned to constantly living in his shadow. Izabela Vidovic is entirely believable and relatable as Via, if perhaps a tad more understanding than most teenagers might be!
As Auggie struggles to make friends in the face of bullying, the emotion and humour are measured out neatly. It’s interesting though, that a scene in the school office between Principal Tushman (a fabulous Mandy Patinkin) and the parents of a child who’s been bullying Auggie, cuts the adult viewer the deepest; striking a sad truth that resonates horribly.
Without doubt, Wonder is a crowd pleaser and Director Stephen Chbosky (Perks of being a Wallflower) certainly knows how to pitch a family drama. It may be a little too saccharine for some, but with such heart and a strong message reminding us that none of us are really that different, you’ll be hard pushed not to shed a tear, or two.