The first thing to know when seeing the movie Wonder starring young breakout Canadian actor Jacob Tremblay is that the source material in a children’s book by R. J. Palacio of the same name. The 2012 book itself is inspired by singer Natalie Merchant’s song Wonder from 1995 about a child with a congenital disease. The song by the former 10,000 Maniac’s lead singer will be featured in the movie.
Keeping all this mind, it is important to know that although the movie co-stars Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson, the story is about the child not the adults. They are support players in this story and there is an expectation of the audience that they will regress to when they were kids and follow along on that basis.
There have been other movies about facial disfigurement such as 1980’s Elephant Man by David Lynch or 1985’s Mask by Peter Bogdanovich. This is the first that covers the years of a child who despite modern medicine and multiple surgeries will still go through life wanting to cover his face so as to not have people see.
Jacob Tremblay (Room) plays Auggie who is about to enter middle school for the first time after being homeschooled by his mother Julia Roberts. At 10 years old, he has undergone quite a lot of surgery with his face being noticeable still for disfigurement. In public, he has taken to wearing a space helmet so as to cover himself and to stay in fantasy somewhat as a Star Wars loving kid.
Wonder is written and directed by Stephen Chbosky (Beauty and the Beast 2017) is a novelist himself, and he shares writing credit for the movie with Jack Thorne and Steve Conrad. An adaptation can be hard by Chbosky was chosen for his ability to capture a story so that it can be presented on screen. To that end he does the job well.
As Auggie arrives at school, he finds understanding staff in the form of teachers and principal but it is the kids that he has to find his way with. To that end, there is a bully Julian (Bryce Gheisar) and a would be friend Jack (Noah Jupe). The story of how Auggie overcomes the challenges in likely to bring a few hankies out of the audience.
There are other moments that offer some poignancy. Auggie’s sister Via (Izabela Vidovic) has always had to step aside as her brother’s 27 surgeries since birth have been an emotional focus of the family. However, she is about to enter high school and is heartbroken about a rift with her friend and trying to find her own way to shine. She does this by discovering a love for theatre and as a result re-claims her friendship with her friend and finds a love interest in a boy for the first time.
Julia Robert and Owen Wilson playing parents have truly supporting roles. However, they help form an understanding of the family that has survived on hard work and love. Still, the movie is not about them. Title cards separate the story into sections that are the point of view of Auggie, Via, Jack and Miranda. It is about the kids.
Wonder is at its best when exploring not just Auggie’s worldview but his sister’s and their friends. The message of kindness radiates through without it seeming to be insincere. This movie is a family movie and may be just the right tonic for superhero and animated movies because of the dose of reality it brings. By the way, has guest appearances by Chewbacca from Star Wars so be sure to look for them.
This has been a editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations