Wonder (2017) could have been super cheesy or unbelievably sappy. Instead, it’s a film that captures the essence of being a kid, a parent, and a sibling. The film is heartfelt and emotionally jarring. Wonder’s story is compelling, and the cast is stupendous. I walked into this film with my daughter on Thanksgiving with worry that it would be a waste of our time, but walked out inspired, dehydrated, and satisfied.
Wonder was a joyous experience
Auggie (Jacob Tremblay) is starting 5th grade and will be attending a real school for the first time in his life. That would normally be enough to make any kid stress out, but for Auggie, it’s even harder because of how he looks. He’s had several surgeries that allow him to function relatively normally, but his face is disfigured. Until now, he’s hiding at home and behind a spaceman’s helmet, but he is about to enter the lion’s den.
His family is extremely supportive, with his mother, Isabel (Julia Roberts) giving up her pursuits to homeschool him, his sarcastic father, Nate (Owen Wilson), and his often overlooked sister, Via (Izabela Vidovic). The entire family gets some great moments on screen, and the performances are outstanding. Roberts shines and reminds the audience why we fell in love with her in Pretty Woman all those years ago. Wilson’s performance is tame, which seems to be a result of director Stephen Chbosky, even though he is often the comic relief, giving sly comments under his breath to Auggie and the audience. Vidovic’s character gets a strong arc that doesn’t fall into the common bitter sibling rivalry trope one might expect.
The film takes a risk and breaks away from the main narrative a few times with a title card of a character, allowing the audience to see from their perspective. However, these scenes add to the overall understanding of the various characters in the film and enrich the experience of the main narrative. Whether we are in the parents’ perspective worried about their child’s safety, or from Auggie’s perspective struggling to find his own self-confidence, Wonder manages to set the right tone and deliver the correct emotion for each scene.
It’s not all sad, as there are lots of great jokes, surprising pop cultural references, and some excellent performances from small roles. The highlight of those small roles is Mr. Tushman (Mandy Patinkin), the principal of Auggie’s school. He is an awesome character in the film and really nets some of the best moments despite his infrequency on screen. Upon his introduction to Auggie, he mocks his own name, sharing how he’s been called “Buttman” and “Tushie”. It gets both Auggie and the audience laughing and helps ease him into the idea of being a student at this school.
Wonder is one of those feel-good family movies that work. The cast performs wonderfully, and it’s a journey that is extremely gratifying at the end. There may be a few moments that are a little melodramatic, but it all works…especially if you’re a parent. Wonder earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.