What a wonderful world of ‘Wonder’
REVIEW — Over Thanksgiving and winter break, my family talked about seeing “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.” However, my mind gravitated toward another movie that many of my family members seemed to consider to be a “kids” movie: “Wonder.”
“Wonder,” based on the book by R.J. Palacio, is about a 10-year-old boy named August “Auggie” Pullman (Jacob Tremblay) who lives with his mother Isabel (Julia Roberts), his father Nate (Owen Wilson) and his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) in upper Manhattan. While it is a story that revolves around children, the trailers attracted me to this film due to the well-known actors, the themes it deals with — which many children’s movies do not — and the values of family, love and the hardships of life that the film embodies.
The plot focuses on Auggie as he is about to begin fifth grade at a preparatory school, his first time not being homeschooled. He had been homeschooled due to a rare facial deformity he was born with, which required him to have 27 surgeries throughout his life. According to Auggie, “They help me to breathe, to see, to hear without a hearing aid, but none of them have made me look ordinary.” As one might expect, most of the film deals with how Auggie fits in at his new school and how he meshes with his new classmates, with lots of the expected bullying from his immature and rather uncharitable fifth-grade peers, save for a few kinder souls who defy the attitudes of the majority in their class. The deuteragonist of the film is Auggie’s older sister Via, who is starting high school. She gets along very well with her brother, but has felt ignored by her parents for most of her life due to the attention that Auggie has required as a result of his medical condition, and she does not have many friends. To make it harder for her, her best friend Miranda (Danielle Russell), one of her only confidantes, now seems to be ignoring her.
As someone who has not read the novel, I cannot say whether the beauty of the storyline was due to the plot, as presented in the novel, or to the way that the filmmakers portrayed it. However, my favorite element of this film by far was its focus on many different characters in the film, seamlessly flowing from one backstory to another. Rather than simply portraying Auggie as a victim and all of his classmates as villains, the film conveys the motives behind many of the characters whose lives are influenced by Auggie. Via’s storyline is impressively weaved into the rest of the film, showing the hardships that a family of a child like Auggie faces. There are even some other secondary characters that the film focuses on, such as Miranda and one of Auggie’s classmates Jack (Noah Jupe). Jack wants to befriend Auggie but is bullied by some of his peers for doing so. The film shows how Jack truly grows as a character. He begins by having trouble befriending someone who is different, but the spark of his personality allows him to overcome that and stand up for what he believes in, demonstrating the impact that Auggie has on others. Miranda’s backstory is even more interesting and unexpected, illustrating how Auggie’s presence has helped her even though she is not part of his family. The way that the film transitions between characters emphasizes the importance of the emotions that are dealt with by all parties involved in a situation as difficult as the one Auggie is dealing with.
I also thought the casting was very well done. Wilson does a wonderful job at portraying the nerdy, awkward and lovable father, while Roberts ties together the family dynamic as the slightly more stern and caring mother. Vidovic, while a lesser-known actress, brings incredible emotion to her character and, while extremely beautiful and put-together, impressively portrays a shy and slightly awkward high school student. And of course, all the younger actors do a fantastic job at conveying the emotions that fifth-grade students grapple with in such a situation, especially Tremblay himself. By the way, the work that the makeup team must have done to make Tremblay’s face look as it should for the movie was one of the most impressive visual elements of the film on its own.
After seeing this film, I would not shy away from calling it a “kids’” movie, but it is one of the many movies that shows that “kids’” movies are definitely not just for children to enjoy. Even as a 21-year-old college student, I was able to empathize with many different characters in the movie, including the adults, who are an integral part of the plot despite its focus on the children. I would definitely recommend this film, as it displays both the simplicities and hardships of childhood through a basic but well-directed plot and allows viewers of any age to emotionally connect to the story.