Film Review: Wonder
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Based on the New York Times bestselling novel by RJ Palacio, Wonder is nothing short of a wonder to behold!
Jacob Tremblay (of Room fame) plays Auggie Pullman, a kid whose many surgeries have left him with facial differences which have prevented him from attending school … until now. Encouraged by his parents (Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson), Auggie joins the local school at the start of 5th grade.
The novel brought a huge awareness to the issue of facial differences, especially in children, and there’s no doubt that this film will be a brilliant tool in educating everyone who sees it as well as entertaining. Daveed Diggs (yeah, from Hamilton) is wonderful as the warm and engaged teacher who helps the kids find their compassion, while Mandy Patinkin is hilarious and perfect as the headmaster that stands for no nonsense at all.
Auggie’s class is made up of the standard contingent of 10 year olds: some bullies, some nice kids who are peer pressured by the mean ones, and some who are too self absorbed to bother with Auggie at all. It’s heartbreaking to watch him struggle to make friends — a stark reminder of how cruel kids can be, sometimes on purpose and sometimes completely unknowingly.
Tremblay is phenomenal in conveying the depth of Auggie’s distress, as well as the firm loving relationships with his family, and the tentative blossoming friendships he develops at school.
Auggie’s emotional story is centred in the story — the sun around which the Pullman household revolves, jokes his sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) — but the film does a great job at reflecting the structure of the book, in which different chapters are told from the point of view of various other people in Auggie’s life too.
Via gets her own dedicated storyline: struggles at school, falling out with her best friend, getting a boyfriend. Her frustration that Auggie is always her parents’ priority never diminishes her love for her brother, nor is it demonised by the narrative.
We get glimpses into the lives of the kids at school, which all give us clues as to why each other behaves the way they do. The power of this film is in teaching everyone to be more accepting of people who are different from them, but it also makes it explicit that prejudices are taught rather than inherent. The kids are products of their parents’ attitudes, so the film calls for better and more compassionate communication between parents and children too.
Julia Roberts is, obviously, revelatory in her role as Auggie’s mother. Her motivational speeches are beautifully delivered, and the family dynamic is so real in its ups and downs. Owen Wilson is funny, but also surprisingly emotional in his performance. Together they try their best and make some mistakes, as all parents do.
That pretty much sums up the film: a few mistakes are made, but overall the message of love is so overwhelming that it doesn’t even matter. The pacing lags heavily in a few places — it could do entirely without a whole school trip episode towards the end — and some child actors are stronger than others. Other than those minor issues, this film is without a doubt the family film of the year. Everyone, of all ages, should make the trip to the cinema to catch this one. It’s not often that a film has the power to literally make everyone who sees it a better person, but this one does.
Wonder is out in cinemas December 1st, distributed by Lionsgate.